After collecting the graduation caps that we had tossed up in the Blue Cross Arena, the Fairport High School Class of 2008 didn’t quite know what to say to each other besides “we did it!”
We hugged each other, took photos — on Kodak cameras, as this was before smartphone photos were high definition and, of course, because the ceremony was in downtown Rochester — and wished each other luck at our respective colleges or other plans.
“Well . . . see you in 10 years!”
Except this wasn’t the case.
By 2007, Facebook was surpassing MySpace as the most popular social media site. Once it had opened to anyone over 13 years old, its original concept as an interactive yearbook directory was perfect for outgoing seniors. By 2008, most of my class had a Facebook account. By September of 2008, when I was starting my first semester at my university, I had added several former classmates to my friends list that I had been too shy to add a few months before.
In the past 10 years, I’ve watched my former classmates start families, change their appearance, and switch careers. I’ve read the inane drivel of a teenager’s status evolve into thoughtful comments and interesting links. I’ve watched people who used to seem so kind write angry, hateful posts and align themselves with Facebook pages spewing bigotry and misleading information.
I know the major places my friends have traveled, and if I missed it the first time I’ll see the throwback post from five years ago captioned “take me back to here.” I know the friends with whom they kept in touch, because I see the photos of them together in my newsfeed or when I’m absentmindedly scrolling through their profile photos featuring their wedding party. I know who influenced my former classmates, where they live, and what their values are.
Any time I think I’m not too attached to my phone or the gossip from my yesteryear, I find myself opening the Facebook app immediately after I close it. A notification will take me back to Facebook (“So-and-So tagged in you in a photo about Harry Potter”) and 30 minutes later I’m still scrolling. And even though most of my active friends are my coworkers or former university classmates, thanks to Facebook my high school reunion will not unveil any mysteries.
There is still value in meeting with my former high school classmates in person, of course. But I didn’t wait the full 10 years to keep in touch with those that mattered to me. When my parents still lived in Fairport, I made the effort to visit my friends on breaks between semesters and, later, between work contracts. I even met up with people with whom I wasn’t as close because their social media feeds made me realize how interesting my fellow Fairportians are. As for those who used to be closer friends, over time there would always be an excuse why they couldn’t meet up.
Yet what about those I haven’t had coffee with? What about the kid who sat next to me in French class, the student who always responded to my AP English teacher’s questions with “imagery” no matter the context, and the ones who ran suicide sprints beside me in field hockey? What about my bullies? What about the valedictorian? What about my arch nemesis, whose rivalry with me inspired me to practice harder, study longer, and learn from my failures when she beat me? Has she forgiven me when I openly gloated about my victories? Does she know how embarrassed I am about that now? Does she care?
There’s a part of me that wants to keep those memories that way. In my head, my arch enemy is rich, successful, and happy. She worked as hard as I did in school and for the hobbies that were her passion. If she wasn’t successful now, I’d be disappointed that her hard work didn’t pay off.
10 years of distance from the high school bubble gives me the perspective that everyone is living their own story. No one went to college or started a family to impress me, so it doesn’t matter if I’m there for them to tell me so. The people who won the “Next American Idol” superlative probably never pursued singing but may have found love and another happy career instead.
In my head, everyone else has gained 10 years of perspective, too. The boys who stole my shoes or the girls who pinched me and called me names will probably be in the PTA leading anti-bullying campaigns for their kids. The kids who struggled in class or hardly made any friends have risen above my pity and have a strong circle of friends now. At least, that’s how I want to think about them.
I spent the last few months of my senior year speculating who would pursue their interests, where people would move, and how they would change. I reveled in imaginary future schadenfreude concerning my enemies, but now I can’t remember their names. Whether those people succeeded or failed had zero impact in how I’ve lived my life in the past 10 years.
I only wish I could show my former classmates that my wardrobe is better than the oversized sweats I would wear to school every day.
But there’s always Facebook for that.