I did all I could to miss each high school reunion when it came time to meet up with my classmates from yesteryear.
I was lucky though that the excuses were quite credible. I know for the 10th and 20th reunions I was in another city for one, another state for the other.
I desperately wanted to go. The easiest way to explain why I wanted to go was to see where everyone had ended up. I was happy to be compared. I was happy to “big note” myself and tell everyone how successful I was as a teacher.
I knew none of it was true though.
I did struggle as a teacher in my early years and never really knew how to get better. How could I be a teacher, but still retain who I was as a person?
But a night out at my 10th and 20th reunions would be a good laugh to not tell the whole truth about my life.
There was NO way I was going to go though.
I battled with how I saw myself as a student. The self-perceptions and the perceptions I thought other people had of me conflicted greatly.
I felt popular at school. I felt people liked me. I felt successful as school captain at my school. I was a very good sportsman and succeeded at athletics, basketball and Australian Rules football.
I wanted to be liked. I wanted girls to like me. I wanted a girlfriend! I wanted to be the life of the party and the one my mates always wanted to be around.
I didn’t like myself and who I was at school.
I didn’t like the way I treated other people.
I didn’t like my school results and my lack of success as a sportsman following school.
I became a Christian at the end of my grade 12 year. The conflict grew between the way of the world and the way of God. The mistakes I knew I had made at school, at schoolies and while at university haunted me.
Why would I want to relive these memories at a high school reunion?
So did I survive?
The 30th school reunion came around in October this year and I was determined to go. There was a small part of myself that had to reconcile with my mind who I thought I was and who I thought I had become.
What a great night it was!
Who would have thought I would have grown up and matured over 30 years since I was a fresh faced and pimply 17 year old? And so had everyone else!
I could talk to anyone and loved listening to people’s stories about their jobs, their kids, their wives and husbands.
The stories, the successes, the failures, the laughs, the memories all came flooding back.
“Hey Russ, remember when you (insert embarrassing story here)?”
And I laughed. And they laughed at me.
It does not define the person I am or had become.
It showed that I was a 17 year old pimply faced kid who did some dumb things. I laughed with the girls I had crushes on and briefly “fell in love” with. I laughed with my mates. And I realised that my former classmates didn’t judge me or hold anything against my high school age self.
We finally have grown up and it is who we are now that is much more important.
Don’t worry Russ. I’ve got this
I laughed with ex-teachers. They impacted me beyond measure. I am still a teacher because of them. I wanted to be like them and impact others like they impacted me.
The night went too quick. The teacher I so wanted to chat with was busy the whole night. The teacher I wanted to be like. He’s now an eye surgeon.
But it was like God said to me, “Don’t worry Russ, you’ll see him again. I’ve got this.”
I didn’t leave school the way I wanted to. I didn’t leave the way I encourage so many of my students to leave- and many of them listen- I didn’t.
Alcohol and how I treated other people didn’t mix well at times. I was torn between the world and God for 4 years after school.
I had been waiting for a night like the reunion for redemption. They weren’t heavy loads or burdens, but regrets. I had doubts about myself released.
I’m catching up with this teacher on the holidays. He text me after the reunion and said he was proud to have had some/any influence in my life. He even called me a “top bloke.”
Self-perception is an interesting thing. I felt my life was a mess at school and after school. He saw me as a “rock” and had the utmost respect for me. He said I was dependable and admired.
And I was worried about going.
Russell Modlin teaches English and Physical Education at a Christian School on the Sunshine Coast. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.