10 years later, classmates are easier to like
This summer millions of Americans will attend high school reunions, revisiting their teen years with varying degrees of nostalgia, delight, and anguish. But as author Chris Colin anticipated the approach of his 10-year reunion last year, he caught up with his classmates long before the big event.
After scouring phone books, the Internet, and other leads, Mr. Colin tracked down and spent hundreds of hours talking to many of his former classmates from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in northern Virginia.
The result is "What Really Happened to the Class of '93: Start-Ups, Dropouts, and Other Navigations Through an Untidy Decade," published by Broadway Books.
"It's an age where we feel like something significant is happening to us, but we aren't ready to understand it yet," Colin says of high school. "I wanted to go back and figure out not just what happened to the Class of '93, but who we were in the first place."
Each chapter is devoted to one former classmate, and Colin casts their lives today against their collective memories.
There is Lorraine Bembry, for example, the author's first girlfriend. Although Ms. Bembry is African-American and Colin is white, the complications of an interracial relationship were no match for the power of puppy love. But when Colin went back to interview Bembry for the book, "It was a fiasco," he recalls.
"I had chosen to approach these interviews with an attitude that we're grown up now. We can go back and look at our adolescence without getting too freaked out. But that didn't fly with Lorraine. She said she was still sort of bitter about the breakup, and she had undergone radical transformation in college with regard to her thinking on race." The two argued that night before finally reconciling.
Conversely, however, a former adversary Colin remembers as an unapologetic bigot provided a surprisingly affirming encounter. After leaving Jefferson, John Doyle studied at West Point and then served as an officer in Kosovo. Colin was apprehensive about talking to Mr. Doyle, but found that "he was wonderful. He had unlearned all of his racism. I was moved."
Virtually every high school class experiences casualties, and at Jefferson it was a friend of Colin's named Sean Bryant. "He was definitely our brightest star," Colin recalls. Inexplicably, Mr. Bryant committed suicide while a senior at the University of Virginia. To this day, no one really understands why this seemingly happy and extraordinarily gifted young man chose to take his own life.
Colin also questions the value of high school academics. He agrees with a classmate who says, looking back, that too much emphasis was placed on subjects like trigonometry, and too little on critical thinking and emotional growth.
The biggest surprise for Colin was "how much nicer everyone gets as they get older."
He found that "sitting down with a lot of people I couldn't stand in high school and vice versa, once you start interviewing someone, and you get to know that person, you just start to like them."
Writing the book, he says, helped him to believe that the cultural, political, racial, and religious divisions in America can be overcome.
In the end, however, Colin came to feel that high school reunions are largely about confrontation.
"But it's not so often between you and your ex or a bully," he says. "It's a confrontation between the new self and the old self. I think by and large there's been an incredibly high percentage of high achievers in my class. But there were also a lot of people who had to revise their idea of what was possible."