In 2003, I graduated (without honors, thank you) from Milton Academy: the school where I lived the motto “Dare to Be True”, where I’d learned to be a strong leader, and the school whose five year reunion I vowed I’d never attend. So when I read the blue and orange invitation that had collected dust for two weeks on my coffee table, I had to ask myself, After parting from Milton so many years ago, did I really want to be a part of that experience again? I spent weeks pondering the answer to that question before I finally conceded and began planning a trip back to my past.
Last Thursday, after riding seven hours on a Greyhound bus from Philadelphia, I’d finally arrived in the picturesque city of Boston. As I drank in the skyline (garnished by the typical sunshine and wispy clouds), thoughts of my four year experience at the academy overwhelmed me. I was immediately inebriated with questions; what would I say to the very first person who truly hurt my heart to its core? Were there still people who didn’t approve of me (and if so, would I tell them how much I didn’t particularly care if they did or didn’t)? Would my classmates ever truly dare to see me?
After lugging my suitcase through South Station and dramatically embracing my best friend, (and yoga mastress) Whitney in the middle of the busy Boston streets, I had some catching up to do. We followed up with an evening of beer drinking (which I never usually do) with our close knit circle of friends. It was great soaking up the good times with them all again and seeing their smiles and transformations (haircuts, weight gain, weight loss). I breathed a sigh of relief; none of us had changed our style too much. When I looked closer however, I noticed that there was one design that we were all collectively wearing that evening: confidence (an outfit we all wished we’d worn during high school). When the evening came to an end, I thought “Well, I’ve seen the people I’ve come to see. What’s the point in going to the actual reunion?”
The next day, while walking onto the lush green quad (in my most strategically selected ensemble to date), I felt the same feeling I’d felt the first day I started at Milton: out of place. I mean, there I was; young, black, fashionably loud, and secretly scraping by with my finances (I guess not all that much has changed about me since high school). But after registration and receiving my obligatory gift bag, I started to feel a little comfortable. This wasn’t an emotion for which I’d prepared myself, so I inhaled the crisp air and bared my pearly whites. Fearing I’d pull a muscle from the Crest ad on my face, I soon began wondering, When it comes to surviving in an unfamiliar environment, do we dare to truly belong?”
I’d spent so much of my Milton career trying to find my place in the world that once I’d found it, it was time to graduate. So upon returning, I realized that after spending the last five years learning to survive in Philadelphia, I’d forgotten how I endured in Boston. So I intended to retrace my steps on the quad.
The campus was just as I remembered it: beautiful, collegiate-looking, and rich. I ventured around my old surroundings, caught up with some teacher friends of mine, and waited for the cocktail party that would occur later that evening in the student center. I was quite sure my torture would commence then.
I walked into the party alone (since my close knit circle decided to temporarily circle up at another destination). My eyes surveyed the area; nothing dangerous, just yet…but then I saw my “heart-hurter” by the bar, and a disapproving classmate in Givenchy by the door. I smiled at the familiar frenemies and tried to avoid those who never once tried to converse with me.
During the course of the evening, every interaction eventually consisted of the enforced “How have you been? What are you doing with your life? Wow, you look good!” Looking good wasn’t the problem, it was seeing all my former classmates that made me anxious. So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I performed, and shared the spotlight with several other nervous pretenders. As the night (and my wine) crept up on me I couldn’t help but think to myself, why, when standing in a crowd of assumed artificialness, was I the only person who felt plastic?
The less-than-five-minute conversations went on until 10, and so did the drinking. The cocktail party must have been Milton’s way of saying, “if you’ve never spoken to each other, get sloshed so that you can!” Before ending my night at an impromptu post-reunion sleepover (which was filled with more drinking), I’d exchanged business cards and stories with those who had the attention span and sobriety to listen. I discovered that many people thought that Milton was a low point as far as adolescence was concerned. We’d learned a lot, yes, but none of us were ever really satisfied. It made me think; was high school the pits for us or just pit stop number one on our way to intellectual adulthood? And if so many of us were unhappy back in high school, how happy did we look now?
At the class barbeque the next day, I saw that many people were happy to be back in their former cliques. It became apparent that certain groups of people had obviously kept in touch over the years while others…not so much. The food was dry, and so was everyone’s attempt at probing conversations. I couldn’t believe that we were back to where we were when we were sophomores: adolescent groupings and behavior. I sighed. With one major event left to go (a class party at a bar called The Point), I hoped I could connect with at least one person before I made the trip back to my future in Philly.
Her name was Taylor (one of our reunion committee members) and I’d always thought she was an intriguing young woman. We shared a conversation about our lives up to this point and (thank goodness) it wasn’t forced. We genuinely found something we could talk about. We had connected. Then, sipping my favorite drink (Malibu Rum, Blue Curacao and Red Bull) at The Point, I finally got the point: I wasn’t at my reunion to be nervous about things left unsaid, post-dated misconceptions, and superficial conversations. I was at my reunion to show people that I had survived life after Milton. I didn’t have to affect a happy demeanor because I actually was (and still am) happy. And somehow, I’d stumbled into a person who seemed to be just as happy with her life as well. So as the music (and my urge to sleep) blared and classmates clouded over their post-graduate miseries with beer and other spirits, my spirit finally glowed knowing that my close knit circle of friends and I had come full circle. We’d achieved a happiness that no one could take away from us. The proof of survival was in our faces and we were thriving in our own ways (emotionally, financially, physically, or romantically). We had all transformed, and our happiness looked damn good!