Every few days for the last six months or so, I’ve received notifications in my social media feed reminding me that my old high school is celebrating its 175th anniversary in the first week of May. The year I graduated from Lisgar Collegiate, the old school was marking its 140th anniversary. At the time, Pierre Trudeau was the Canadian Prime Minister, Ronald Reagan was still in his first term, and Wayne Gretzky was a twenty-three year old who had yet to win a Stanley Cup. It was a while ago.
I really liked high school. There were even things about high school I loved. Though I wasn’t a particularly dedicated or enthusiastic student, I received good enough grades to be accepted into a competitive program in one of the top universities in the country. I was pretty good at sports, I had lots of friends and on the day I graduated, I left campus feeling really good about my alma mater.
The world ahead of me seemed to be an adventure ready to be experienced, a puzzle to be solved, a treasure waiting to be discovered. It really did.
There have been anniversaries and class reunions since that time but I never felt compelled to return. I held no animosities but nothing ever really drew me back to the place where I’d spent five very important years of my life. But some time later, a few years ago, I returned on one Sunday afternoon. Lisgar had been part of a walking tour of historical buildings in Ottawa and I thought I might get a kick out of roaming the halls again one last time and I could show my wife where I’d spent my formative years. And maybe even show off a little when I pointed out my name on a cup in the trophy case. On my walk down memory lane, things looked mostly the same, though everything seemed a little smaller than I’d remembered, and while I enjoyed the experience, I wasn’t moved by it. What I felt was more like a sterile curiosity, as though I were looking upon a museum exhibit of someone else’s life. And the ring on the trophy where my name once was had been removed because it was so long ago.
So I won’t be returning to the old Blue and Grey next weekend to celebrate its big birthday. Though I send along good wishes to the old building and my fellow alumni.
I am, however, celebrating another graduation.
Yesterday, I finished a three-month residential recovery program. There was a small graduation ceremony but there weren’t any robes and mortar boards or tuxes and gowns. Instead of champagne, there was coffee and juice. There was no valedictorian but there were a few modest and heartfelt speeches. None of us had a pocketful of acceptance letters to top universities but some of us had intentions of returning to school. And there were no grand old trophies with our names engraved on them in old-timey fonts but we did each receive a coffee mug with our certificates.
My home for three months
After it was over, my wife and I skipped the limo and got into our ten-year old Hyundai and went to lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant. It was perfect.
We drove home in the rain and when we arrived, I was tired. Perhaps emotionally more than physically. But I was home and I knew where I could lay my head.
I got up before dawn this morning. I watched the sun come up. I don’t really feel any different than I did yesterday just as I didn’t feel all that different on that first day of summer vacation in 1984. And the days ahead seem like they will be more puzzle than adventure. But as I watched the sun rise through my kitchen window, the future does look a little brighter today than it did yesterday. Maybe even as bright as it’s looked in thirty-five years.