I’ve only been to one high school reunion since graduating in May of 1975. I never had the desire to attend one until I received a letter in 1995 inviting me to the 20 year reunion. After I received the invitation, I tracked down my best friend from high school. He was living in Chicago at the time, was married, and had two children. Like me, he had not gone to any of the previous reunions.
I asked him if he was planning on going to the reunion and he said “No.” I told him I was thinking about going and that it would be a good opportunity for us to get together and catch up on the last 20 years. He said he would think about it and see if his wife wanted to make the trip to Peoria. I called him back a week later and he was still undecided. I put some pressure on him and ended up talking him into attending.
In order to register for the reunion, we were required to send in payment along with a completed form and profile. The profile was a questionnaire that asked whether we were married, the number of children we had, where we worked, our hobbies, and other general information.
When we showed up for the dinner and dance, we received a booklet. On each page of the booklet was the name of a student who had registered for the reunion, the student’s senior year picture, and the information that the student had provided in the profile. The pages were in alphabetical order, sorted by the last names of the students.
On the inside front cover of the booklet was a list of all of the students who had died since graduation. As I recall, there were 8 or 9 students listed (out of the 435 students that graduated). During my high school years, I had personally known 4 of the students who were on the list. I did not recognize the names of any of the other students on the list.
Of the four deceased students that I knew, I had heard about the deaths of three of them. The first student’s name was Mark. I had gone to St. Mark’s grade school with Mark. He was an only child and was a confident, generous, good natured boy who was not very outgoing, but enjoyed the company of his small circle of friends.
After graduating from high school, I lost contact with Mark only to find out later that he had been killed in a motorcycle accident. His parents were both devout Catholics who wanted more children but had only been blessed with one child. Several years after Mark’s death, his mother ran into my mom at a local store. The death of her son came up and she told my mom that when she was unable to have children, she made a promise to God that if He blessed her with a child, she would thank Him every day for the rest of her life for answering her prayer. She told my mom that despite her devastating loss and the emptiness that she often felt, she kept her promise and continued to thank God every day for the son He gave her and the time she was able to spend with him.
The name of the second deceased student that I knew was Dave. I was in concert choir with Dave and we were also in a couple of school plays together. He was an extreme introvert who was very quiet, reserved, and kept to himself. To my knowledge, he didn’t have any real close friends at school. Although he was sometimes teased by a couple of the class bullies, he always minded his own business and never caused any trouble. He died a few years before the reunion, after an extended battle with cancer.
The name of the third deceased student that I knew was Chris. Chris was an extrovert who had a lot of friends and enjoyed being around other people. He was the only boy I knew during my first two years in high school who dressed up for school. During my freshman and sophomore year, I fit in by wearing jeans and pullover shirts to school. At the beginning of my junior year, I noticed Chris was wearing some cool bell-bottom pants along with a classy golf shirt. I asked him where he bought his clothes and the following weekend I went to the mall and purchased enough new cloths to replace my limited wardrobe of jeans and shirts. I wanted the girls to start paying attention to me, and I figured I would stand out more if I dressed better than all of the other boys in my class.
Unfortunately for Chris, during his last two years in high school he got involved with the wrong crowd and started using illegal drugs. At first I didn’t believe the rumors about his drug use because it was completely out of character for Chris to behave in that way. He was a kind, good hearted boy from a decent family. My assessment of him was wrong. He eventually started selling drugs to support his habit and a few years after graduation, he was gunned down on the street after a drug deal went sour.
The name of the fourth deceased student was Sue. Although I didn’t know Sue very well, like Chris, she was very outgoing and enjoyed interacting with (and being around) other students. Unfortunately, by the time she was a junior, she had developed a sleazy reputation. One day while I was in the boy’s locker room, I heard another student telling his friend about how he had dated Sue for a short period of time. He said that on his last date with her he asked her why she had set such a low moral standard for herself. She responded that she let boys have their way because when she didn’t, they got angry with her and stopped taking her out on dates.
I didn’t know that Sue had died until I saw her name included in the list of deceased students. When my friend saw her name, he asked me how she died. I told him I didn’t know. Later in the evening while I was visiting with one of my former classmates, I asked him how Sue had died. He told me that she had committed suicide.
Each of the four students that I mentioned – Mark, Dave, Chris, and Sue – started high school as decent human beings who had a lot going for them. For Chris and Sue, something happened during their first two years in high school that changed their behavior (and subsequently ruined their lives). But it wasn’t only their behavior that changed. Along with the change in their behavior, came a change in their beliefs.
A couple of weeks ago in my article, Glued Into Place, I talked about how all behavior is based upon (and arises out of) one or more beliefs. Last week in A Valentine’s Day Journey, I talked about how beliefs are highly addictive and can take over a person’s mind and life.
So what was it that changed the behavior (and beliefs) of Chris and Sue? In my opinion, one of the primary factors was the peer pressure they were subjected to by the “friends” they relied upon for acceptance and support. Other than the death of a loved one, there is no worse emotional pain than the rejection or betrayal of a loved one or a friend. Rejection pushes the same pain button in the human brain that is pushed by intense physical pain. At the most basic human level, social rejection is the equivalent of physical torture and, at times, even death. Continued rejection can (and often does) change the beliefs and behavior of a person.
I’ll have more to say about this next week.