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Chatterbox: Leaving what matters behind


Chatterbox has done a column or two on different aspects of high school.

Graduating classes have been preparing for the future to this point for over a decade. Four years of high school are spent making some very important choices and committing to courses of study as well as courses of action – maybe having some fun too.

My life has confirmed that high school is critical in laying the groundwork academically to gain the great basic knowledge we carry forward with us whether into a career, college or both. That is an obvious “given,” but life also taught me that honing our skills at being good people is critical too.

My attendance at numerous high school reunions has taught me something else: What we leave in our path captures a long lasting place and leaves an indelible mark in peoples’ lives and on personal memories. Memory doesn’t serve details well to anyone though. It’s really only a general feeling of what went down for four years of living, playing and learning together that we carry with us. It’s only that general feeling that is ever recalled.

While we are actually in high school, we may feel what happens on the social level is of critical importance, but how we rank among others in high school is far less critical than how we treat others in high school. Of course, that remains true always.

It may seem that we are cementing our value for life during high school, within its hierarchy, but we aren’t. A single year after graduation, what happened in high school in terms of who was the big thing, who wasn’t and how we factored into that becomes, not just irrelevant, but forgotten.

As each additional year passes, details dissipate and all that is left is an aura. Who was kind, who wasn’t, and where we fell on that spectrum becomes, not just relevant, but remembered. Only our aura will define us – after school, to every school reunion, every chance meeting, and in everyone’s memory forever.

More of us than we ever think, will return home whether it’s for life, days, events or moments, and our past will come home with us. Our children may be the classmates of our own classmates’ children. We will reconnect with former school mates who won’t remember our popularity but our charity. Our clothes and gowns will be forgotten. Our great heart and kindness will be remembered and, luckily, we get to choose what those memories will be.

What we learn in history class will never change. It’s history. What we do for others and to others will not change. That is our personal history. Meanness or kindness, the way we prioritized things or responded to the minutiae of four short years, is not just what we remember about ourselves. It’s what others remember about us. It’s what follows us. It’s what we have to build on and pass on to our kids.

Last night, I caught a show all about Cher. Her early hard life, her insecurity, her poverty and the face she was never happy with, even as others wished they could look like her, even as others emulated her. The irony was as pure as it gets. She could only see herself from inside her head.

We’re the same way. We don’t see ourselves as others see us. None of us really knows how others see us or see the affect we have on them. One day, we will hear a high school classmate tell us we were so nice, pretty, smart, funny, or that they were afraid to talk to us because we were so cool. That’s when many of us will think, “I must have been absent that day.”

If a person as successful, famous, and enviable as Cher didn’t know how she was seen by others, how can we? After all, we have far less reference material and public visibility. So, we shouldn’t judge ourselves, or think we know what others see in us, or accept that the opinion of the few is true of everyone, or even matters.

Labels are for folders. Categories, titles, and the Who’s Who on campus all add up to something that is simply perspective – intangible, and irrelevant. We must be certain to be the best person we can be and let the rest just ride.

After we graduate, the playing field is level again and we’ll start the game with more experience.