” This never happened. It will shock you how much this never happened.” – Don Draper Mad Men
Ten years ago today I graduated high school. It doesn’t seem like yesterday, but it also doesn’t feel like a decade has passed. Their are a lot of expectations around what it means to attend a high school reunion, but for us, the class of 2008, the pressure to “catch up” with old friends from high school feels both redundant and unnecessary.
Even though Facebook had been available for select college students since 2004, it wasn’t until 2007/2008 that people moved from the popular MySpace accounts to the social media platform that would soon become a ubiquitous way to keep up to date with friends and casual acquaintances without ever having to talk to them. Over the past decade I have watched as we all went away to college, as we navigated the early part of our twenties, as some of us got married and some of us had kids, and now here we are and I’m not left wondering what became of these people because I already know – we moved on with our lives.
Looking back now it’s easy to romanticize the ending of high school in the greater context of what the world was that June. Barack Obama had all but formally locked down the nomination for President and we were a country of “Yes we can” unaware that we were on the brink of a financial crisis and a housing market that would crash and take out many peoples savings. We were enthralled by the FIFA World Cup and the Beijing Summer Olympics and with Rihanna & Chris Brown songs playing in the background long we were oblivious to the disturbing facts around their publicized relationship.
Everything seemed so important, and for me, I couldn’t wait to leave the small beach town I grew up in and everything that it represented. I had no idea the crazy up’s and down’s up ahead along the winding road that would lead me here.
In searching for the right photo to put with this post (which I didn’t even find!) I was able to take a picture tour through the years, which in my mind had blended together but honestly had somehow buried themselves in the hidden corners of my memory. All those memories feel far away and it’s “shocking how much it never happened”. The emotions, the learnings that felt so big after graduating remain in this nostalgic place where I looked thinner and was untouched by what “adult” life would be. Retrospectively it feels like 20 years since putting on that cap and gown and walking towards a diploma, but probably for many who graduated 10 years ago it only seems that way because we entered another era over these years, an era that we were on the border for, the mid mark for millennials but separated from Gen Z following behind.
As I write a DJ Earworm mashup from 2007 & 2008 plays and I’m reminded of riding around in my small Ford Focus with the windows rolled down not knowing that the things I didn’t know were allowing me to dream of possibilities so big that nothing seemed out of reach or unrealistic. It was all skipping class to go to the beach, sipping on Smirnoff Ice while attending bonfires, car sex, assignments that only mattered until college apps were in alongside homecoming, grad night, senior pranks, prom and grad night. It was the very best moment in time but we didn’t know it and yet we enjoyed it as if we did.
My graduation itself was on a cold foggy afternoon a week after our schools Black Graduation with my actual graduation party in between the two events. My mother, ever the party planner, threw a backyard bbq that rivaled a wedding and while I didn’t accumulate as many checks as my friends, I walked out of the party with a whopping $700 which lasted me the whole summer (those were the days). I remember my mom and dad waiting in the high rise bleachers as the rest of my senior class lined up wearing oversized caps and gowns and quivering from the cold quietly underneath. Afterwards we met some of my friends at a fancy restaurant where I basked in the glory of being done, of thinking, “now I’m an adult!”
That was ten years ago. I sit here now typing on my work computer half way between finishing something up for a deadline and texting my friends about weekend plans. A bank statement notification pops into my email inbox and I wonder if I’ve taken anything out of the freezer for dinner tonight since I’ll be home late after yoga. I’m debating on whether or not to have a cold brew or drink more water and adjusting myself uncomfortably in my work dress with my company zip-up hoody that’s a prevalent outfit accessory for those in the tech industry casually thrown over. I need to write a check for utilities, update my card for Netflix, do laundry and put in a prescription for my anxiety medication even though I won’t have time to pick it up until Friday and I have yet register my FSA card. I’m making a list of reminders to call my aunt, send a Father’s Day card and make a decision on where to travel to over holiday break this year instead of just silently daydreaming while browsing Airbnb.
When they handed me that diploma I didn’t think this is what it would look like ten years later. I had dreams of being married with a kid on the way and killing it in my high powered career. I’m not disappointed in where I am (all the time), but I imagine various conversations about the realistic mundaneness of actual adulthood as something I would not enjoy with people I’d much rather give a “like” to on Facebook or Instagram than talk to. We don’t need to physically catch up, but reunion or no reunion here we are at a strangely arbitrary milestone and it’s not that bad, it’s just different. At least now, I know to want everything but expect nothing for the next ten years ahead.