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As I’ve mined my 50th high school reunion these past weeks I’ve been advised (a tactful word) to do a follow-up. Well I have to say the 50th for what was formerly Aurora-Hoyt Lakes High School was fairly well attended. Roughly half the 100 graduates made it. Seventeen of us having been embarked on the permanent rolls of the deceased did not attend. Those absent were no less present in recollections not to mention our collective appearance being generally more elderly and less sprightly than when we zipped gleefully across the stage to get the paper emancipating us from what for many of us had been four years bondage. Fifty years earlier I doubt there was one among us with a thought in his or her head of tottering back fifty years later to gander at what we’d so eagerly left behind.
A tour of the old school was arranged. Thankfully the fine old building we knew was still there to admit us. We milled out front, somewhat noisily as in the past (then as now my classmates were often a bit loud). For six years (the Junior High being in the same building) I walked through that main entrance without bothering much about the words cut into stone above the doors. I could not have told you what was written there and as a sixteen year old I likely would not have shown concern for Mr. Lincoln’s words on political religion. In its teens the human mind is involved with things more immediately pressing than what had once been important to an assassinated President.
Out of curiosity I walked across the building front to the other doors. Above them another inscription as new and unknown to me as if I’d never in my life been in that location when by any reasonable count I’d marched that route over a thousand times walking under those words and gave them less heed by far than I paid my friends or any of the other things so critical to an adolescent caught often in backwash of chaos following the tsunami of puberty that roared up the coast to so profoundly alter geography. I knew I’d gone through those portals many times without taking note of the message overhead. All I needed do was stop, look up, and read. Instead I zipped through the doors, bypassing the insight overhead needing no more than a glance to be recognized. The enormity of my youthful ignorance slapped me in the face fifty years later finally seeing Mr. Lincoln’s words cut in stone. LET REVERENCE FOR THE LAWS BECOME THE POLITICAL RELIGION OF THE NATION. Frankly, I was ashamed of myself for having been to ignorant of what was before me and entered the building with that cloud following.
The tour officially began in what had been the library when I went to school there. I’m not sure what function the space plays these days other than a large open space for gathering and displays. Smack in the middle of that area, again one I frequented hundreds of times, there stood I large and prominent stone fireplace with wooden mantle. I gaped. There was a fireplace in the library. I did not remember an impressive cut stone fireplace. Had I spent six years being blind and insensitive to the obvious? Apparently this was so. I asked some others nearby. “Do you remember a fireplace in the library?” They looked as surprised by the object as I was. There is comfort in numbers when they share your ignorance, especially when one of them was a Library Assistant for four years. Apparently we were all dense and in the same way.
When I left the doors of that school the final time at age seventeen I could have done every hall on each floor in twenty minutes. We were allotted two hours and not entirely because after fifty years we were that much slower. There were changes and additions to the building, so we were covering both old and new ground. I am quite confident I could have made the tour in half the time given us. I might have needed the ER afterward but I could have done it. I’m sure of it. A thing slowing us down more than age was points of reference. How could some not pause to reflect in the area where Mrs. Thompson ruled so wisely and well? It was beyond me not to dawdle at the former chemistry lab where I broke so much glassware, the physics lab where unauthorized electrical experiment was savored, or the dark hole under the stage where it was possible to scare the pants off a girl and come away neither of you benefitting from the experience as expected.
The stage was a familiar refuge for me. I ran lights and generally tinkered with whatever I could get my hands on. (Several coaches tried pushing basketball or football on me. A couple of test dribbles or one of my custom facial expressions was enough to dissuade them of further attempts.) The stage, once I got hold of a pass key, made an exceptional hideout. I knew that area well as I did my bedroom. It knew its every inch in intimate detail. Yes I did. But was I one bit aware that all the end seats in the auditorium bore the school initials AHS for Aurora High School? No. I gaped at those letters as I did the doorway inscriptions.
I ask. What sort of people took the care and effort to customize the auditorium seating? Who was the unknown chose the inscription? WHERE THERE IS NO VISION THE PEOPLE PERISH. As students we need not know their names or recognize what their vision gave us. We benefited despite our unaware ignorance.
Consider if the unknown planners had left this. SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY IS THE PEOPLE’S POLITICAL RELIGION or WEALTH IS THE NATION’S VALUE. I hope you will see that had such thought been foremost in the planner’s hearts they’d have never given the gift of public education. Those who left us public education gave more than we often realize or appreciate.
On a closing note, I did manage to annoy a few of my former classmates, so the event wasn’t a complete loss.