Stan Voit: After 45 years, it's time to see fellow grads again

May. 25, 2013 @ 11:04 PM

The year I graduated from high school, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated. The Tet offensive in Vietnam escalated that war and began to turn public opinion against it. The Democratic Convention in Chicago was marred by violence and protests in the streets that helped elect Richard Nixon in November.

Tennessee beat Alabama 10-9 in a classic game in which Richmond Flowers Jr. got his revenge against a university from a state that persecuted his attorney general father.

I was not very political in those days. I don’t remember my classmates being either. My biggest worry that year was whether I was going to pass my senior trigonometry class and graduate with my classmates. It was close, but my teacher showed some mercy and gave me a D-minus so I squeaked through.

Huge mistake, me taking trig. I really had nightmares for years after that I had failed and had to go to summer school to make it up.

Tuscaloosa High was a huge school, with some 2,000 students in grades 10-12. There were around 550 in my graduating class.

It was still almost all-white. In 1966 some 50 black students transferred from all-black Druid High School to my school. I’m sure they were hand-picked by leaders in the Tuscaloosa black community because they were deemed most likely to handle such a transition better than others. By the time we were seniors we knew each other, and any concerns were long diminished.

I wish I had kept up with some of them. It would be a great story to tell, of how they were chosen and how they endured what had to have been a difficult year or two. I like to think they were left alone and not harassed, but I really don’t know for sure.

My school had its share of rednecks and goons. After all, the head of the Ku Klux Klan lived in my hometown.

These memories surfaced in recent weeks as I began to consider whether to attend my 45th class reunion coming up in June. A website was created on which we could post our bios and tell others where we lived, what we were doing and what our families were like. We could even post photos.

I have always been dismissive of class reunions after having a miserable experience at my 10th in 1978. I left early and headed home, disgusted at the attitudes and snide remarks made about others. I vowed never to go to another one.

Yet here I am as my 45th approaches, ready to make the trip back to Tuscaloosa and see people I haven’t seen — or in many cases cared about — since 1968.

My siblings helped convince me to give it a shot. People in their 60s have dropped their pretensions and attitudes and just enjoy each other’s company, they told me. They said I will like the reminiscences and stories.

Some 225 classmates have signed in and posted their bios, although of course not nearly that many will return. They live all over, from Tennessee — eight of us — to the United Arab Emirates — some smartypants with a Ph.D. is teaching at a university there. We have military veterans, a barber, government bureaucrats, lawyers and a minister or two.

More than 50 classmates have died, including one who seemed destined to be governor one day, His dad died in 1966 in a plane crash while campaigning for governor in an election he was favored to win. The son — my classmate — became a state senator, but died about 10 years ago of a heart attack.

Bonnie’s class reunion is the same weekend, but she insists she’d rather go to mine. That’s nice. She’s probably curious about what I was like as a chubby, unpopular teenager who was in that netherworld between the bluebloods and the hoods, as we called them.

The truth is, there are people I graduated with who I would enjoy seeing again. We were friends in the 1960s but did not stay in touch. I imagine that the bigger the class, the less likely it is that fellow graduates remain in contact with each other.

So I plan to go back. I hope they pin everybody’s yearbook photo to their shirt so we don’t have to guess. And I hope nobody comes up to me, covers their nametag and insists I guess their identity. I just may turn around and leave.

But not before guessing.

— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to svoit@themountainpress.com. Twitter: @stanvoit.