Fri, July 19, 2024

50 years later

Steve Swanson is the former station manager of 88.3 WAFJ radio station in North Augusta.

On a steamy Friday evening in June of 1973, several thousand people gathered for a high school graduation ceremony at Wharton Field House in Moline, Illinois. Almost 900 of them were my classmates, gathered to celebrate the culmination of our high school careers and receive our coveted diplomas.

A few weeks ago, I joined a couple of hundred visibly older (and some wiser) former classmates for our 50th class reunion in Moline. I visit my hometown about once a year to see my family, so I don’t go there very often.

What do you remember about your high school experience? With our large class size, I recall seeing students receive their diplomas on graduation night that I hadn’t met or shared classes within the four years we attended school. With everyone arranged in alphabetical order, it took a while to get to those of us near the end of the alphabet!

My high school experience was largely uneventful. I cruised through my classes with a lot of Bs on my report cards. Like most, I navigated my studies, activities, and peer relationships with little attention or fanfare. Most often, I enjoyed a good level of anonymity.

When I first heard about our 50th class reunion though, I knew I wanted to be part of it. I enjoy people and love to hear the stories of their lives and experiences. I knew they would be interesting and vary. I was certainly right about that!

Our reunion took place at an event center that now sits on the site of the old Case/International Harvester plant (they built farm equipment) where my grandfather used to work. It shut down decades ago and there is no longer any indication that it ever occupied that space.

Our big event was scheduled for Saturday night but there was an informal time of conversation on Friday evening at a local bar called the “Wunder Y.” (Yes, I too wonder why that place was chosen.) Nonetheless, it provided my first taste of the reunion weekend with familiar strangers. About 100 former classmates filled the space, each carrying with them decades of stories, heartaches, joys, and adventures.

Our reunion committee had organized a tour of our alma mater on Saturday morning. Many came to see the new performing arts center, the remodeled cafeteria area, and the sprawling multi-million-dollar athletic facilities. It felt strange and yet familiar to walk those hallways again. From there, we had a quick tour of Wharton Field House, the site of our graduation. It also served as the home court for our high school basketball games. One of the “extras” at the fieldhouse was meeting the current coach of the boys’ basketball team. This season the team won (for the first time in school history) the 4A state basketball championship. The championship trophy was proudly on display.

Saturday night was the big event. We gathered at the Bend Event Center to remember and celebrate the four years we spent together in high school. Some of us recalled even earlier memories with classmates we had also shared our grade school and junior high years with.

There were finger foods and round tables, a cash bar, and after a couple of hours, music (LOUD music) from the band, Grey Wolf. Many smiles, hugs, and laughter were exchanged. There was also a valiant attempt to get a group photo taken, which was very much like trying to herd cats in the rain.

Just before I walked in, I had decided to meander over to the first person I saw by themselves, greet them, and thank them for coming. Much to my surprise, Cheryl was the first person I talked to. She was one of a couple of hundred foster kids our family had hosted over the years. It was a nice surprise to reconnect with her for a few minutes.

The long-anticipated weekend went by very quickly and then, it was almost time to return home.

One of the perks of growing up on the banks of the Mississippi River is the Mississippi River itself!  There is a long walking and biking trail adorned with trees and flowers alongside the river which makes for a very pleasant place for a stroll. I decided to walk for a while and reflect on my visit before my return to the CSRA.

  • Life is a quick trip! I didn’t think about it much while in high school, but to have lived 50 years beyond those years is rather mind-boggling.
  • Everyone has a story. All of us go through life with joy, pain, triumphs, heartaches, dreams, and adventures. Some live victoriously, others just plod along, choosing to endure life rather than enjoy it.
  • Gratitude is essential to a grand life! Every heartbeat and breath, every color and smell, every moment of laughter and joy. All of life is a gift from the creator. Don’t squander it!
  • Perspective matters. So much of the drama in life is of short duration. You will get through it. Just like you did in the past. The hard times make you stronger and don’t last forever.
  • Your words matter. Several people made a point to encourage me with their words at the reunion. That kindness lingers and carries weight.
  • Today is a gift! It was sobering to watch a video with names and photos of classmates who were no longer with us. We need to be grateful for today and prepared for eternity!

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the most significant thing that happened to me while I was in high school was making the decision to accept Jesus Christ as the Lord and leader of my life. That single decision is the most important one I will ever make. It’s given me purpose, joy, and the understanding that our fleeting years here are leading to the wonder of Heaven, the forever home God has designed for all who put their faith in Jesus.

My reunion weekend provided a great opportunity to connect with others and reflect on my life so far. It also served as a reminder that the best is yet to come!

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