Peer Pressure Becomes You: My Thank You Note

July 13th, 2011 by joanna43

In a recent Time magazine article about high school experiences, Annie Murphy Paul quoted Kurt Vonnegut’s retelling what a classmate said about life:

“You all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with. . .You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school.”

I laughed out loud, because I had just gotten back from my 50th high school reunion.

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At Anchorage High School, where I graduated in 1961, I had the English teacher whose reputation preceded him, Mr. Crouch, Wendell Crouch, and I’m thankful I had him. He made us write a lot, and he graded it all. I walked softly and did what he assigned.

One paper I kept for decades, but I can’t find it now. In a lapse, I cleaned up, and I think I finally threw it away. I wish I could remember his wry comments on it, but I think I’ve repressed it. Before I admit what I’m going to reveal about that paper, let me say that because of Mr. Crouch, I placed in a high school poetry contest. I re-read the poem, and believe me, it’s abysmal. High schoolers are, among a lot of things, pretty maudlin, silly creatures. I’m not reprinting it.

The paper I wrote was on friendship; the assignment may have been to write on Aristotle’s ideas about friendship. In any case, that was the angle I took, even though I can’t remember the whole title.

But do I ever remember the first part of the title.

It went, “Fiendship: . . .” I don’t remember the words following the colon. And let me admit here that not once did I ever type the word as anything else but “fiendship.” It was NOT a Freudian slip, only bad, consistent typos, over and over and over.

Unsurprisingly, Aristotle has a lot to say about friendship, but most of it now seems very high-minded; his philosophical musings, however, explain why “Fiendship” wasn’t a Freudian slip. A nice, quotable, thing he says in Nicomachaen Ethics asserts that it is necessary for us to have friends, “for without friends no one would choose to live. . . .” He then says, “. . . we praise those who love their friends, and it is thought to be a fine thing to have many friends. . . .”

Yes, I was very lucky to have had a lot of friends – not fiends – in high school. And, no, I don’t sit around reading Aristotle.

Mystery Solved

During the two-year run-up to the June 17, 2011, 50th Reunion, I worked electronically, — as did others — with committee members living in Anchorage and cities across the U.S. Along the way I re-friended some classmates, got re-acquainted with classmates I had known less well, and made new friends with others I had not known. I cruised up The Inside Passage with classmates who had been good friends in high school but whom I had not seen in decades, as well as with little- or not-known classmates.

Why was it so easy to love reconnecting with these long-ago classmates? We hugged, kissed, laughed, and made toasts together; all the while I wondered if they really recognized me. How could they? I didn’t recognize myself.

Ginger H., Leonard Bryant (Sigi's husband). Look out the window.

Toasting ourselves on the cruise ship

That question kept niggling at my mind. What’s the connection with classmates? What is this lure reunions have, so strong that going to them has created this huge business in America?

The answer stared me in my wrinkled face, the one I hardly knew in the mirror: “Hey, self, it’s the FRIENDS, the friendships, stupid.”

But I kept wondering: What made those friendships so strong, so meaningful? Then I remembered a book I had read when I was searching for some explanations for my daughter’s hideous drug addictions that so affected mine and my family’s lives. I had pulled it off the shelf again when our granddaughter, our daughter’s child, became ours to love and raise and I needed information on child development.

I grabbed it again after the reunion: Judith Rich Harris’s The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do.

In it she very convincingly argues her theory: “that children [elementary and junior high ages] identify with a group consisting of their peers, that they tailor their behavior to the norms of their group, and that groups contrast themselves with other groups and adopt different norms.”

Then, BINGO, in high school, as adolescents, we put all we’ve learned from our little peers to use with our big peers. This is how and when teenagers become themselves, who they are and will be. For good or ill, like it or not.

Your peers, your friends, are your biggest influence; they help form who you are then and become later.

The Way We Were is Now

Her theory certainly explains “peer pressure.” It only follows that it’s wanting to do and to behave and to dress and to think and to feel in ways that are meaningful to and help define your group.

Were we different or unusual? As the AHS Senior Class of 1961, probably. We were a huge, diverse group: children of native-born or first generation Alaskans, of U.S. Air Force or U.S. Army personnel, of civilians working with the military, or of adventurers, entrepreneurs, and fortune-seekers; children of the Cold War living with the very real threat of nuclear attack. The DEW Line (Defense Early Warning system of radars), which was the first line of defense against the Soviet threat, drew many families to the state. Most classmates watched Alaska become the 49th state and perhaps even watched President Dwight D. Eisenhower doff his hat to the crowds at the celebratory parade down 4th Avenue.

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This class marked the transition from the comfort of the 1950s to the upheavals to come in the 1960s. We represented the promise of the future for Anchorage and a new state and what each would become. Then we scattered to places all over the globe.

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Anchorage4thAve470

4th Ave. downtown Anchorage, then and now

Unusual or different as individuals? Maybe, maybe not. The point is, we were our very own peer group; together we tried ourselves on to see who we were; we needed to bounce ourselves off each other – our hair, our shoes, our personalities – to grow up. We needed each other during that critical time.

And so, I thank my AHS Senior Class of ’61 classmates, all of them. I thank my close friends, my re-friends, my new friends, and those I haven’t seen since then – all those I shared that time, the 20th reunion, the 30th reunion, and the 50th reunion with. Thank you. Thank you.

Commence

The Time article’s author said she was flabbergasted when her high school principal invited her to give a recent commencement address to graduating seniors. I don’t think she had a great time back then.

Amazingly, our 1961 AHS principal, Mr. Joe Montgomery, was able, at 93, to attend our reunion’s sock hop. As he spoke to us from his chair, we all felt how special a moment it was.

Mr. Joe Montgomery, 1961 Principal, Anchorage High School

AHS 1961 principal Mr. Joe Montgomery, at the 50th Reunion Sock Hop

If Mr. Montgomery were to call and ask me to address a commencement, here’s what I would say to the grads:

“Real life is high school. Don’t be hangin’ around with no un-fun, un-interesting group. There’s too much at stake, like your identity. And wanting to come back to your 50th reunion. Now, throw your caps high, get outta your robes, and get outta here. Thank you.”

Thank you, AHS Senior Class of ’61.

KTVA CBS channel 11 in Anchorage reported on the reunion. View the spot from here; click on the video.

Also on that same page is an article I placed in Alaska Airlines Magazine after the AHS Class of ‘61 20th Reunion.

Senior Pictures, Pictures of Seniors

June 5th, 2011 by joanna43

Summertime! Water fun, weddings, backyard cookouts, trips to the mountains, fireflies, even noctilucent clouds (which you can find out about at www.spaceweather.com). And graduation, which means U.S. high schools and colleges putting gazillions of seniors out on the streets.

It’s also the season for one of America’s great pastimes – no, not baseball. Reunions.

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Reunions come in all kinds, sizes, and shapes — like school classes, families, all kinds of military gatherings including fighter pilot aces, athletes celebrating a special win. Name a meaningful past event or cohorts; people will get together.

Reunions are also big business in America and generate tons of summertime spending; I’ll do my part in a few days to stimulate the economy by contributing more than my share to this business segment.

Yet, there’s a major reason to go, a reason based on some little-known research. That secret will be revealed at the end of the post.

AHS Senior Class of ‘61

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I first heard the silly joke, “What’s the difference between senior pictures and pictures of seniors?” when my father told me he was going to his 50th high school reunion. I thought it was way over the top back then. (The answer to that stupid joke will be at the bottom of this post.)

Some people would rather be shot at dawn than have to attend their class reunion.

Well, I’m risking it all and going to mine. In Anchorage. That’s Anchorage, Alaska. By way of the Inside Passage on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas, a cruise put together by a few classmates. There will be about 30-plus of us on board. I haven’t seen these classmates in 20 years, since our 30th reunion.

I leave Thursday to get on board. I’ve sent my money in. If I drop dead before next Thursday, well, I won’t live to regret it.

We will join lots of other classmates Friday, June 17, at (West) Anchorage High School, to begin our 50th Reunion. Over the top, alright.

We’ve had a lot of fun working on this Reunion for two years, some of us communicating electronically with the core committee in Anchorage. The work shows in the Web page, at www.ahs61.com.

A few days ago with a temperature here in Tuscaloosa at 101 degrees and my AC merely chugging along, I went to Belk to continue my spending by getting a few things. I couldn’t find them.

“Where are the socks?” I asked a couple of salespeople.

They were speechless, looking at me like I was a mental case. “I’m going to Alaska!” I added.

“Oh! They’re over there,” they replied.

Gravity Happens

Why — looking like I look, missing all the opportunities for success I’ve missed, feeling totally inferior, not remembering stuff I should remember, having just had “procedures” I don’t want to discuss – why would I put myself through a REUNION? Yes, there’s that secret reason to be revealed at the end. But what about the CONCERNS?

Here’s my take on the CONCERNS:

Many had a tough time in high school. Here’s what I say to that: Who didn’t? We were teenagers. Give me a teenager who didn’t have a tough time and I’ll give you a corpse. Teenagers and psychopaths and sociopaths probably share many personality traits.

Many grownups still feel the sting of real or perceived affronts to their esteem. Here’s what I say to that: Who doesn’t? And let me say right here: If I committed an affront to any of my high school peers, I am most sorry for it. My excuse is that like everyone in high school, I was insane and busy dealing with the affronts aimed at me.

Regarding having suffered from an inferiority complex. Ha! This is what I say to that: I still am. Descartes should have said, “I feel inferior; therefore, I am.”

Many seniors don’t recognize the person in the mirror. I don’t, and I’m sure no one will recognize me. It’s all about gravity, pounds, bad hair color, baldness, wrinkles, dysfunctional knees and sexual prowess, bags, walkers, and whatever else we’ve added to our lives. Here’s what I say to that: It’s true. Most people won’t recognize you anymore than you’ll recognize them.

Get over it; the name tags will be HUGE.

Some will fear scorn for their fuzzy or no “accomplishments.” Here’s what I say to that: As long as we’re breathing, we’ll all continue to have to re-start our lives – for the zillionth time. I just had to re-start mine three years ago when my husband (miraculously, of 40 years) and I petitioned for and adopted our 18-month-old granddaughter.

We ALL remember envying other classmates’ looks, brains, boobs or other endowments, status in the “in crowd,” athletic heroics, scores on the SAT test, and a zillion other things. Here’s what I say to that: I envied Teresa Hanson’s pink Ford Victoria convertible. And Ginger Harris’s confidence. And Tom Kelly’s SAT scores. There, I’ve said it. But I’m going to attend anyway.

No Regrets

So we will come together for our 50th high school reunion – because we CAN. We’ve been given the gift of surviving long enough to have this opportunity. Seeing noctilucent clouds will just be gravy.

Those who will see their close friends, those who didn’t know each other, those who only knew each other as acquaintances – we all share this singular opportunity. All of us shared that one moment when the AHS door opened graduation night for us to begin our journey to adulthood. We all helped each other get to that point, for good or ill.

Senior Prom '61

The AHS Senior Class Prom, 1961. Both the King and Queen, sitting in the chairs, will be at our 50th High School Reunion.

And finally, the main reason, a best kept secret revealed in a New York Times piece two years ago:

“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”

ANSWER TO THE OPENING QUESTION:

As far as we, the AHS Class of ’61, are concerned, there’s NO DIFFERENCE between senior pictures and pictures of seniors

“Stranger in Paradise”

May 19th, 2011 by Joel Wight

Emphasis on “Stranger!”  We were so full of ourselves then—so filled with hopes and dreams for what lay ahead of us.  And far less worried than what we were to become, because we knew less.  We had a whole lifetime ahead of us to understand how much we must rely on faith to live well.  Then, we simply did it.

Sara Carriker, our “Most Industrious” classmate, led the organization and planning of our Senior Ball based on the theme song “Stranger in Paradise”. Our other “Most Industrious,” Mark Briggs, had co-chaired the Junior Prom.  The ethereal atmosphere in the high school gym, a paradise created from billowing parachutes, pink lighting and wistful trees with pink leaves, honored our Junior Class.

It was Friday, April 7, 1961.  From a field of 22 princes and princesses, we crowned Ron Berg and Pam Brooking our King and Queen and proceeded to “dance the night away.”  I was privileged to escort Princess Joanna Cravey, along with Ron, voted our “Most Popular.”  Paradise was about to end as we knew it, and the real world awaited.

We were serenaded by musicians who included Michele Priebe (“Prettiest Smile”—Michele went on to raise a family of six children as a single mom in Utah before we lost her to liver cancer on June 2, 2002), and Darrel Smaw (“Best Vocalist”—Darryl, an ordained minister, and college dean at Swarthmore College, just outside of Philadelphia, will join us for our 50th Reunion, and has agreed to sing the theme song for us again as he did on that long ago evening).

Looking back on that night, I can still remember the sense of closing in rapidly on the end of a magical time in my life.  I could already feel the loss of something which I wanted to hold onto—graduation was coming too fast.  Those feelings are still with me, as real as they were then.  We’ve been fortunate to remain in touch with each other over the ensuing 50 years.  We’ve experienced life’s wonders and joys, and also its sorrows.  We’re older and wiser, more humble and grateful for having lived.

We’re all strangers in a universe about which we learn exponentially more every day.  How small we are.  And yet how significant, especially for having known each other and the memories we share.

I co-chaired our Senior Ball with Sara—moral support to her excellent leadership.  I remember thinking of Sara when told that I was to support her in this role “Now there’s someone you could spend your life with.”  But that’s another story.

First Love

March 2nd, 2011 by the Blog Admin

One morning in July 2009, as I sat at my computer enjoying a cup of black coffee in Zushi, Japan, I began to think about my high school days in Arlington, Virginia.

I wonder what happened to Julie Case.

We had gone steady the whole year, when I was a junior and she was a freshman.  With hair the color of honey, blue-green eyes, and a smile that invited, she was the epitome of vivaciousness and good health, and a cheerleader.  Although I wasn’t good at sports and didn’t take much interest in them back then, I attended all of Julie’s football and basketball games and track meets, just to watch her perform.

When she didn’t have cheerleading practice, we studied together at her parents’ apartment or mine.  Every Saturday night without fail, we went to the movies at the local theater in Fairlington Shopping Center, a few blocks away.  Then almost every Sunday we caught the bus for Washington, D.C.  One day we explored the National Gallery of Art and saw the Mona Lisa when it was on loan from the Louvre.  On another outing we visited the Smithsonian Institute to marvel at the reconstructed skeletons of dinosaurs, not realizing what gargantuan beasts they had been.  In the spring we rented paddleboats on the Tidal Basin and picnicked under the cherry blossoms.

The middle of April Julie broke her foot during cheerleading practice.  For six weeks she hobbled to class on crutches with me carrying her books.  In May, with my Junior Prom approaching, I asked her what she wanted to do.

“Of course, I expect you to take me,” she said.  “My mother has already sewn my gown.”

In a black-and-white photo I still have, Julie’s strapless gown looks white, but is actually a subtle shade of pink.  On her right foot is a pink high heel; on her left, a bulky plaster cast tied with a matching pink ribbon.  That night at the Prom we danced all the slow numbers as we clutched onto each other.

Soulmates is an apt description of our relationship, and both of us knew we’d get married someday.  But that dream came crashing down after school let out in June.

“My father has been reassigned to Headquarters US Army Alaska,” Julie told me.  “We’re moving to Anchorage August first.”

I was devastated.  “Anchorage is 5,000 miles away!”

We parted with many hugs and kisses, and promises we would be reunited once again.  During my senior year we wrote to each other—at first two or three times a week, then less frequently—until finally our letters of undying love stopped.  I graduated and went to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and never heard from her again.

Over the years I’ve thought of Julie often, as people do about their first love.  Periodically I checked Classmates.com for her name at Anchorage High School, but never found it.

Now that my 50th high school reunion was coming up in October, I had another idea.  If I do a Google search for Anchorage’s reunion, I might be able to locate her.  Although their reunion won’t take place until 2011, they might’ve already set up a website.

I input the words, Anchorage High School 1961 Class Reunion, in the Google search box and hit Return.

There’s a link!

I clicked on it and a well-designed orange & black-colored website appeared onscreen.  I clicked the menu item for “Our Classmates.”  First, a list of “Found Classmates” came up.  I looked for the name, Julie Case, but couldn’t find it.  Then I checked the list of “Missing Classmates” and her name wasn’t there either.

It’s strange.  Maybe she didn’t graduate in 1961.  Or maybe she moved away from Anchorage before graduating.  In that case, I’d never locate her.

Then I noticed the “In Memoriam” box.  Reluctantly, I clicked it and checked the list of names.  When I saw Julie’s name, I froze.

That’s impossible—she was two years younger than I!

I sat there in a daze, staring at her name on the computer screen.  I felt the tears welling up inside me.

I’m too late.  Now I can’t tell her I never stopped loving her.

That evening, after the initial shock of her death had abated somewhat, I realized that except for the year we were together, Julie’s life was lost to me.  I’d never be able to hear, firsthand, her triumphs and sorrows.  Then I thought about my own life.

When I die, all my experiences will be lost too, unless I do something about it.

That’s when I decided to start writing my memoirs.

– Andy Barker

Note: Once again I’d like to thank Ron Thorne and Ken Odsather for getting in touch with me after I asked assistance in supplying information about Julie Case.  Also, I want to thank Douglas Dunham and Joel Wight for their help in piecing together the life of my first love.  Frank Morton, recently deceased, was also instrumental in supplying the e-mail address of Julie’s only child, Kristine, who I continue to be in contact with.

Meeting JFK

January 18th, 2011 by pnortonjensen

Seeing JFK on the news recently brought back a memory that is still so vivid it’s hard to believe it happened a half-century ago! The date was September 3, 1960, and the place was the Anchorage Westward Hotel. The previous evening, John F. Kennedy had given the kick-off address for his Presidential campaign at the Edgewater Dining Room on the Seward Highway. As editor-in-chief of the Eagle’s Cry, I’d received permission to attend JFK’s press conference in the Chart Room.

Shortly before the press conference began, I was standing by an elevator in the Westward. The elevator doors opened and out stepped John F. Kennedy! Perhaps the red wool suit I wore caught his attention—or maybe it was because I was the youngest person in the vicinity. At any rate, he walked straight toward me, greeted me and shook my hand! What an awesome start to the day!

Local reporters and photographers, representatives of major radio and television networks, and national magazine and newspaper writers all attended the press conference. This was truly the big time! It was the day when notes were taken on paper  notepads…not the electronic gadgets of today. Action moved quickly as reporters fired off their questions. I remember the purposeful activity, the busy excitement, and the abruptness with which the press conference ended.

Bob Bartlett stands out in my mind as a man who was really attuned to young people. Sen. Bartlett took me under his wing that morning after my Dad introduced me to him. I had a feeling of confidence that came from sitting beside Sen. Bartlett during the press conference. And when it was over, he immediately escorted me to JFK so I could ask questions of my own!

Fifty years may have dimmed our memories, but we all carry special moments from our days at old Anchorage High! If you have a remembrance you’d like to share but need to jump-start it, contact me at bpjensen@alaska.net. Perhaps I can find an Eagle’s Cry article that  will help to jog your memory!

My story appeared in the first Eagle’s Cry of the school year with the photo below that was taken by an Anchorage Times photographer.

Pat Norton talks with JFK following his press conference at the Chart Room Sep. 3, 1960.

Anchorage High School Auditorium

January 16th, 2011 by Ron Thorne

AHS Auditorium - View From the Stage

Anchorage High School – 1956

January 16th, 2011 by Ron Thorne

From Postcard - 1956 (Note unpainted auditorium)

Anchorage High School Cafeteria

January 16th, 2011 by Ron Thorne

Anchorage High School Teacher’s Lounge

January 16th, 2011 by Ron Thorne

Aerial Photo of Anchorage High School – 1955

January 16th, 2011 by Ron Thorne


© 2006-17 Anchorage High School Class of '61 Reunion Committee. All Rights Reserved.