Going Back To Old School Days

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 19, 2005
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It comes soon after the last college payment - maybe about the time your newly married child mentions that she and her husband don’t quite have the down payment on the condo they want to buy (“Could you, perhaps, Dad, maybe ... ?”).

Or when your newly retired wife lays out the brochures describing the Alaska cruise on the dining room table. Or the one for four European capitals in 14 days. Or ... you know - traveling - a way to pass the time until death.

About then - before grandchildren and rheumatism ground you - you feel an overwhelming desire to revisit your youth. Reunions provide just about an acceptable opportunity.

Four years ago I attended my first, the 40th reunion of the Allegan (Michigan) High School class of 1961. I had a blast. Talked to people I had not seen in 40 years, reminisced, caught up, reflected.

And I pledged to myself that I would attend the next reunion of my college class, that of 1965 at Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Mich. And a couple of weekends ago, I did just that.

Kalamazoo College was a terrific little school which I have been trying to persuade a son, a daughter, a cousin and a dozen-and-a-half calabash nieces and nephews to attend. None has.

More’s the pity for them. “K” provided its students with a remarkable educational experience.

In our sophomore year, we all spent a quarter in either a career internship or some sort of public service. (I worked in a conservative Republican congressman’s office in Washington).

In our junior year, the school sent us all abroad for two quarters. Depending on the language we’d taken our freshman and sophomore years, we were shipped off to Germany, France, Spain or Latin America. We studied in the language, lived with host families, tried to immerse ourselves in the culture. (I murdered German syntax in the university town of Erlangen, Bavaria, Germany).

In our senior year, we did something called a senior thesis. I was an English major, so “K” loaned me a few bucks to go East for three months where I rummaged around various university libraries. I produced a long, very bad paper on the novelist William Faulkner.

“K’s” innovative program drew extraordinary teachers to the campus. The college honored one of them, poet Conrad Hilberry, this past reunion weekend. He described the faculty’s response to returning undergraduate interns, foreign study participants and senior thesis writers: “We had to hustle to keep up with our students,” he said.

They were, present author excepted, a brilliant group; and it was my great pleasure to see them again. A revisit to one’s youth among a few dozen people you haven’t seen in years isn’t always easy.

You have to look past the extra pounds most carry, their wrinkles and gray hair, their stooped shoulders or dye jobs. But when you do (and they look through yours), they are the same people: John and Marian and Ann and Loretta and Mike.

John weighs a lot more than he did. His hair is completely white.

But he still has that nervous movement of his body when he talks. Notice that - remember - and he is young again, a tall, stripling boy: funny, always willing to put down his book and talk, a devoted dormitory lounge bridge player.

And Jan, a handsome man today. As a physics student he did experiments in a garage behind a college-owned rooming house. “What are you doin’, Hessler?” I’d yell at him as I hurried to a class. “Oh, I don’t know. Just throwing things at other things, trying to break ‘em up,” he’d reply. Today Dr. Hessler works at the University of Chicago’s Argonne Laobratories, throwing things at other things. “The toys get bigger. That’s all,” Jan says.

Or Johnnie, who served as managing editor of the student newspaper, to an always deadline bending editor named Boylan. Oh, she gave me some censorious looks in those days. Now? Now she’s a free-lance writer in Rhode Island. I hope, just once or twice, she bends a deadline.

Johnnie looked terrific, and it was great to see her. It was great to see them all. Forever young.

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