Depending on whom you ask, high school was either the best of times or the worst of times. Regardless of your status as a band geek, bookworm, nerd, jock or dance team captain—the idea of reconnecting with old classmates can be both exciting and terrifying.
As high school reunion season approaches, contemporaries may find themselves asking: Who’s made it big? Who’s become big? Who’s lost their hair? And, whatever happened to my high school flame?
For decades, these have been the burning questions at the heart of every 30-, 40- and 50-something faced with the uncertainty of reconnecting with old high school classmates.
We all have memories—first dates, epic championship games against crosstown rivals, homecoming floats, field days, cut days, senior pranks and so many more.
Dennis Graham is a member of the St. Andrew’s Class of 1974, which was also the school’s first graduating class. Graham, who graduated in a class of only 11 students, describes his classmates as “one big happy family.”
“There are a lot of things I can’t tell you, because I am sworn to protect the innocent and the guilty,” he said, “but what I can tell you is that we had a lot of fun growing up together . . . and with bottle rockets.”
Graham said the St. Andrew’s Class of 1974 didn’t have traditions.
“We started them. Because we were the first senior class, we started the senior prom at St. Andrew’s. We were there to see the school’s first football and baseball teams play their first games,” he said. “It has been great to see the school grow and develop over time and to see how far it has come.”
Graham, who now is involved in corporate accounts for C Spire, said that because the class was so small and because they were the school’s first senior class, the group was connected at the hip.
“We went everywhere and did everything together,” he said. “In fact, we went to Gulf Shores for our senior trip and were all able to stay together, in one house, as a graduating class.”
As Graham and his classmates approach their 40th reunion, he said they remain close to each other and to the school.
“There is something about high school,” he said. “Maybe it is because you are young and carefree. Or maybe it is because you are growing and changing and experiencing things in the world for the first time, but you remain connected to those people throughout your life. I always look forward to seeing my former classmates.”
Jackson Academy graduate Joel Brown is currently planning the school’s first 30-year reunion, for the class of 1982, which was the school’s first graduating class. The Jackson Academy Class of 1982 plans to hold a pre-reunion reunion this summer, with a larger reunion in the fall, during the school’s homecoming festivities.
“We were so close in high school that 30 years ago seems like yesterday, and I look forward to any opportunity to spend time with my old high school classmates,” he said.
Brown, who remains involved in the life of Jackson Academy, was also instrumental in planning the 10- and 20-year reunions for his class of 22 students.
“Because the high school at Jackson Academy was essentially created for us and because we were Jackson Academy’s first graduating class, we have always felt a strong connection to each other and to the school,” Brown said. “Reunions are a great time to reconnect with each other and talk about how we can stay involved in the lives of our classmates and in the life of the school. But, more than that, reunions are a time when we can get together and talk about that time in our lives for which we have so much fondness.”
Brown, who owns Brown Fine Art and Framing in Fondren, said his happiest memories are in the “simple things” that he and his classmates enjoyed.
“Like all high school kids, we wanted to keep things from our parents, but we were good kids who enjoyed good, clean fun,” he said. “Our traditions involved dinner at Shakey’s Pizza in Fondren and the occasional night of dancing at the Lamar downtown.”
“I also remember that Ray Higgins (8th-grade teacher) took us all white-water rafting in North Carolina. There were no seats in the back of the van, and he put all the duffel bags there with some foam on top, and we rode up there lying on top of all the lumpy bags. It was great fun.”
Brown said that he and his former classmates still enjoy the ongoing rivalry between Jackson Prep, something that Jackson Prep graduate Alfred Hopton knows plenty about.
“We had a tradition of painting our cars with shoe polish on the Friday of the Jackson Academy football game and drive down Sheffield Drive honking our horns and generally being obnoxious. At that time, JA had never beaten Prep, but I am pretty sure that still goes down today.”
Hopton, vice-president of public relations and social networking for RPRT Communications in Venice, Calif., said he had “plenty of fun at Jackson Prep.”
“We always had a good time, but generally stayed out of trouble,” he said. Specifically, though, Hopton enjoyed the day each year when club pictures were taken for the yearbook.
“Someone thought it was a good idea to call the clubs one by one over the intercom to have their photos made,” he said. “A couple of friends and I would get up and go, regardless of what club was being called.
“I was not a member of the business or the economics club, but my high school yearbooks sure say I was,” he said. “It makes me look good to my children.”
Murrah High School graduate Leigh Ann Pieronila is in the process of planning the 25th reunion for her class of more than 300 students.
“When I look back at high school, I remember the really fun times we had together—like paint parties and an occasional prank,” she said. “Our rivalry with Callaway fostered a lot of school pride.”
“Our class was large, and it was impossible to know everyone, so for our reunions, we plan big events and give people flexibility to spend time together their old friends. My group loved going to the Cherokee Drive-In, so when we get back together, we always try to go there,” Pieronila, a school librarian in Madison County, said.
In addition to a time of celebration, Pieronila also describes high school reunions as “a time of remembrance.”
“Every reunion, we make it a priority to remember the classmates we have lost since we last met. We recently lost a friend to cancer, so we will do something special at the reunion to remember her and the other classmates we have lost.”
The Murrah classes of 1968, ’69 and ’70 are planning a mega-reunion on June 15-16, with activities planned at the Fairview Inn and the Country Club of Jackson.
Certainly many in that group will remember a prank played during football season of 1967.
When Bob Wright, who now practices dentistry in Alabama and Florida, was a senior in the class of 1968, he had an after-school job at the University Medical Center, where he worked with mice in a research lab. Part of his job was to inject mice with a dye, which turned the skin, ears, tail and feet blue, but the fur remained white.
When Wright saw Murrah’s school colors represented in the mice, he had a mischievous eureka! moment.
After the mice served their purposes in the lab, he began to collect the rodents; he had important plans for them as the big game between Murrah and Central High School drew nigh.
Wright said, “It was a different time, and I know that if anyone tried to pull this prank now, it would probably land them in jail.”
Wright said he diligently re-dyed 250 mice, and he and a couple of (anonymous) cronies convened at 2:00 a.m., the night before the game, and drove his blue and white critters downtown to Central.
Wright said, “We pulled into an alley behind the school and wondered how we could get in.” One of his friends found an unlocked window. They climbed through, and, in the darkness, they systematically scattered the mice throughout the building.
“After we completed our mission, we all sneaked back into our houses, and I can’t remember if I got any sleep.” He did, however, arrive early at school the next morning to run the school-supply shop, where students could buy things for class.
“When I locked the supply room and was heading to class, Mr. Robert Oakes, the vice-principal, came out of the office, and said, ‘Bob, I just got a call from the principal at Central. Would you happen to know anything about dozens, if not hundreds, of blue and white mice over there?’
“I did not deal well with deception and just responded, ‘Uhh, errr,’ which is when he invited me into his office. I was squirming.”
Wright admitted everything.
“Poor Mr. Oakes had to bite his lip in order not to laugh. He said, ‘Now, Bob, you just can’t go around doing that sort of thing,’ and that was pretty much it for being in trouble.”
Wright hastened to add, “I have managed to shed my wayward ways, but, still, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall. You know,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “there’s just something about girls and mice.”
The best of high school seems to be in the moments—the highs and lows—that somehow linked themselves together to create an unbreakable bond between the people we held close then. Many still remain close to us in our lives now, or just in our hearts of memories. Reunions serve to bring to mind dusty memories and of times gone by, and they can help us close chapters and open new ones, too.