Last weekend was my 10 year high school reunion.
But I didn’t go.
It’s not like I didn’t want to go–actually, I was curious to see what everyone from my small, coal-mining town was up to in the big world. I knew that most were married and still living in Utah, but I’m sure a few anomalies from my class were doing some really amazing things.
It would have been nice to visit my small hometown after 7 years of absence and catch up with the class of ’08, but due to distance and finances it just wasn’t feasibly possible.
Still, the invitation made me reflect back on high school, college, and the ten years that have lead up to what is now my current life.
Small Town High School
If I wasn’t in journalism class writing up a storm, you could usually find me painting or sketching away in art class. I was left brain all the way, and when it came to picking a career I chose to follow my passion and pursue my dream of becoming an artist or a writer (yeah, I shoulda been a doctor).
Unlike the other girls in my year reading Shape and Cosmopolitan magazine, I was always lost in an issue of TIME magazine or the New York Times, reading it front to back in one sitting. I was quite isolated and cut off from the world in my hometown, so I was captivated reading international magazines that introduced me to different cultures and ideologies through the pen of a journalist. Covering the war in Iraq, discovering tribes in Mongolia, reviewing the latest bars in Manhattan–the life of a journalist looked exciting, fun, and most of all meaningful.
Even at 16 I didn’t want to have a 9-5 job, get married and have a family like everyone else. I wanted to travel to exotic places, write about it, and most of all inform the American public about happenings around the world.
I was obsessed with Japan and Japanese culture, was a fantasy nerd, a video gamer, and a lover of foreign films–which instantly made the outcast in our all-American High school (my school was 99.5% white, with the minority in my school being me and one other half-black girl).
In high school, your clique is usually defined by who you sit with at lunch. There are the skater kids, the cheerleaders, the druggies, the jocks–you know the drill. Due to my strange hobbies and ethnicity, I found myself sitting at the “nerd/smart kids” table, where my fellow peers were the leading kids of the class.
Since I didn’t drink or do drugs, there wasn’t much to do in my hometown. I went to Blockbuster on almost a daily basis, renting new video games and movies and spending a good portion of my time alone. I was quite shy and reserved, but I secretly wished I could be more outgoing and popular.
I spent many evenings in my room watching movies, which may sound lonely to you but are now quite fond memories to me. Memories of Princess Mononoke, Gladiator, Amelie, Before Sunrise/Sunset, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon rolling on my screen were some of the most inspirational and memorable moments of my life.
At 16 my family took me on a trip to Southern France, which changed my life forever. Being in a foreign country, surrounded by a new language and a completely alien culture, flipped my world upside down and changed my outlook on life. The trip inspired me so much that, after long hours of part time work, I saved enough money to go to Paris, France for my graduation at 18 and explored the city with my best friend. In that moment I realized the world was vast, varied, and simply amazing–and I had to see it all.
Although I went to France, I enrolled in an Italian language class in high school which not only introduced me to the great country that is Italy, but also helped me realize my talent with languages.
I still remember my graduation ceremony
In typical American fashion, we were all wearing cap and gown and seated in a giant auditorium. My good friend was the valedictorian and gave a speech that I still (slightly) remember to this day:
“Like Frodo,” My friend spoke aloud. “We are leaving the shire. We are going into the unknown, into the heart of an adventure, as Gandalf told Frodo; and like Frodo, we’re uncertain if we’re making the right choices or not. But that’s exactly what life is–an adventure full of the unknown, and all we can do is follow blindly with our fellowship into a world of opportunity that awaits us.”
Although I was set to attend the University of Utah with a major already in mind (journalism), I was still frightened. Moving from a small town to a big city–even if it was in the same state–was a terrifying experience. I was full of apprehension, but I knew it had to be done to achieve something great. When I left high school, I was determined to become a world famous journalist and write in TIME magazine someday. I wanted to travel. I wanted to really live life. And most of all:
I wanted to go to Japan.
In The End
One of my friends at the ‘smart table’ fell into the drug scene, dropped out of university and eventually wound up in rehab (but is doing fine today).
Another close friend is a prominent lawyer in Seattle.
My best friend is a pharmacist (quite possibly the smartest in our lot).
And my other good friend studied tai-chi on Mt. Wudang for half a year in the boondocks of China before realizing that teaching the art of kung fu wasn’t for him (no, I’m not joking). He’s now into social work and Tibetan Buddhism.
An acquaintance went on to get a full ride art scholarship, but now she’s working 4 jobs to make ends meet.
And me? I still haven’t written in TIME. Somehow, I’m in California right now.
But I went from small, coal mining community to the beaches of Bali, the mountains of China and the cobblestone streets of Europe.
And most of all: I lived in Japan.
I’m not a world famous journalist (yet!), but somehow I ended up becoming an interpreter and translator instead.
But still, I’m sure 18 year old Mary would be proud.