Monday, August 4, 2014

What I Learned in High School

I went to my class reunion Saturday. Our class was the first to graduate from what was then the new Norristown Area High School in 1974, after we spent our sophomore and junior years at A.D. Eisenhower. For that reason, we chose the name "Alpha" for our class and we lived up to it.

Our class congress was a good mix of town and suburban kids--representatives from all three junior highs, all parts of town, most races and ethnicities and religions. We weren't perfectly integrated, either racially or gender-wise (7 boys, 37 girls in our senior year) but I don't think anyone felt left out based on physical attributes. At least I hope not.

We were ambitious and creative and fearless, and most of all, unified. When we came up with an idea for a dance or Homecoming float or assembly, we didn't waste time worrying about how it should be done. I don't even recall spending much time forming committees or organizing. We just showed up and things happened. And when I say "we" I don't mean a handful of kids who did everything. I mean 20 or 30 or more students per project--and we had projects going, it seemed, every month.

If any group was ever an example of Norristown's beehive, it was the NAHS class of 1974.

At the reunion, I found that one classmate still living in the borough had been to some of the same Town Meetings as I had--we just hadn't recognized each other after 40 years. In fact, I was surprised at how many classmates had stayed local. Another told me she was thinking of moving back to town because her heart was still here. Several more who'd moved away showed a genuine interest at what was going on in town and loved hearing about our festivals and theaters and the like. Even after 40 years, my class, where Norristown is concerned, is still pretty unified.

I guess that's why I expect more of our residents. I know what kind of people came out of here in the past. I know how much can be accomplished if people just show up, bringing their energy and enthusiasm and optimism with them. So much of the time, we seem to close ourselves off from the rest of the community, by race or churches, or even just by family. We need a more open community, where we're not afraid to try to accomplish bigger things.

Yes, I realize that a class of about 700 students planning mostly social events is different from a borough of 34,000 trying to turn a town around, but the basic needs are the same. Like the class of '74, we need to be ambitious and creative and fearless (and this last seems to be the most difficult hurdle). Most of all we need to be unified. There's nothing wrong with this town that we can't fix.

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