Hurray! The memory book for the delayed 50th reunion of my college class has finally been submitted. When I volunteered for this project, I knew exactly how meticulous the work on graphics and editing would be. Believe me, I was over those parts of the job long before the job was over.
However, I delighted in recalling the quaint and quirky place where I spent four really important years and the people with whom I shared those years. I mean, when the alma mater begins “in a quiet, peaceful village/there is one we love so true,” sentimentality is bound to follow. I wistfully typed recollections of campus haunts and traditions, references to favorite profs, remembrances bookended by silly pranks and the tragedy of Kent State.
During the three months of this reunion project, however, I experienced a phenomenon of sorts. All of us in the Class of 1970 have lived fifty-year lives of twists and turns, with families including – or not – spouses, children, and children of children. The huge difference is that I know I am exactly 73 years old, an accepted fact woven into the fabric of my retirement.
But my classmates have seemingly not similarly aged, at least from a perspective I find difficult to shed. They wrote proudly and even eloquently about their jobs, various residences, and memorable vacations. They shared photographs of the good, old days, alongside updated ones clearly depicting gray hair and transformed body shapes.
Working on the tribute to our intervening lives since “the quiet, peaceful village,” I somehow felt that my 1970 contemporaries just never grew up. According to my perspective, they have remained the 20-somethings we all were back then, cramming for exams and pulling all-nighters on our way to the careers for which we were preparing. It has been a nostalgic, out-of-body experience – with my body the only one that aged!
A more recent incident, however, demonstrated for me a decidedly different perspective. Up popped a Facebook photo of fourteen charming ladies from the Graham Class of 1977. In another nostalgic haze, I reminisced about the times we shared in my classes forty-some years ago. They were young and lively, giggling their way into my classroom to learn about participles and prepositions before moving on to driving permits and prom dresses.
But I was young, too – just eleven years their senior. Since then, I have watched them grow into an adulthood that has brought them to their sixth decade, even developing lovely friendships with a handful of them.
The perspective lacking with my college classmates has always been front and center with these girls of ’77. I began as their somewhat fledgling teacher, and they were my students. Just as it was difficult to address my beloved English teacher Mrs. Lash as “Isabell” and my grade-school-music-teacher-high-school-librarian Mr. Rogers as “Tom,” so has it been a struggle for many former students to call me “Shirley.” Now that these early students of mine are soon to join me in retirement, however, our perspectives are necessarily shifting.
I also experienced various perspectives with another individual, who sadly passed away two weeks ago. Frank Focht, who concluded his career in education as Graham superintendent, was my second principal at GHS. I began teaching under the leadership of Ronald Pawlowski, my high school principal. He was an imposing man, and I still felt intimidated when I joined his teaching staff.
From a refreshed, slightly more mature perspective, I found Frank more approachable and modern, although he was just three years younger than his predecessor. Frank ran a tight ship, though, always expecting as much of himself as of his teachers. He believed in expectations for students, every year recommending homework on the first day of school. And he knew what was going on in his building: he was regularly out-and-about. Twice monthly as he personally distributed paychecks, he took the opportunity to observe firsthand the learning taking place all over the building.
Frank’s outstanding trait was his love of young people. Although our working relationship was always teacher-administrator, I would have loved to have taught with him. As it was, Principal Focht knew enough about each kid in his building to say something personal to any student he happened to meet in the hallway.
Our perspectives changed when he retired, and we developed a more relaxed friendship. I finally and more fully enjoyed the personality and humor of this Air Force veteran who believed in family, country, and service to his community. I will miss him.
We often refer in passing to perspective, but actually we should never lose sight of its significant impact– as illustrated in this cautionary tale:
Observing a neighbor’s clothesline from the kitchen window, a wife regularly commented to her husband that poor washing skills must be to blame for the dingy appearance of the clothes hanging on the line. One morning, however, the critical wife declared the neighbor must have finally learned to wash – the laundry was sparkly clean – at which point her husband informed her: earlier that morning, he had washed the window.
Over the years I have learned the impact of perspective on my relationships and my work. I have experienced the need to understand and embrace necessary shifts in my perspective. Finally, I have come to realize the importance of keeping my perspective, my window on the world, fresh and clean and clear.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.