My younger son graduated high school in Massachusetts this past Thursday, and his ghost graduates in Pennsylvania tomorrow night. (That’s Monday, June 6, though who knows when people will read this.)
As regular readers know, I uprooted the family and moved from PA to Mass. three years ago after my younger son’s freshman year in high school. His older brother was out and in college already.
I wasn’t thrilled about putting the younger kid through that change, but I had faith that he was outgoing enough to make friends in a new town. Evidence suggests this came to pass.
His former classmates in PA spent a few more days in harness this year than he did in Massachusetts, but they are finally preparing to close the book on their educational association tomorrow night.
Amid all the best-years-of-our-lives nostalgia, I wonder if any of them have thought of him. I’d bet at least a few have. He was part of their story for quite a while — kindergarten through ninth grade, and as far back as day care for a few kids — even if he didn’t hang around for the end.
This got me to thinking about the kids who showed up for part of my K-12 journey and then skipped out.
I can still bring a bunch of their names, a few of their faces, and a handful of their destinations to mind, well over 30 years since I was last in the same building with them. (I count eight or nine of them in the class photo shown here, which is included mostly as art for art’s sake and was selected chiefly because I already had it in the blog’s media library.)
There were military brats (even in a not especially military town); and kids who ditched public schooling in favor of private; and kids whose dads got transferred out of state; and kids whose folks got divorced and split town.
Presumably, there were also at least a few kids whose parents had the same kind of bone-deep negative reaction to Rochester that I ultimately had to Pennsylvania and made the same kind of mid-career jailbreak.
(For the purposes of this contemplation I am excluding foreign exchange students, because they’re really not a core part of the story of a graduating class. Although none of my classmates died while I was in public school, I would exclude those unfortunate cases from this line of thought as well. Tragedy should have its moment of silence, but right now I’m focused more on the mundane … those kids who took their juice boxes and lunchbox pies to Albany or Harrisburg or even just across town, and continued to exist there and struggle with spelling there and be really good at shooting free throws there.)
One of my ghost-classmates (he moved partway through high school, maybe to Chicago?) made a dramatic reappearance in the class narrative at our 20th reunion. I wasn’t there, but I’m told he showed up out of the blue, publicly apologized to a girl he’d treated poorly back in the day, kissed her hand suavely, and asked for forgiveness.
That might end up being the final reunion my class ever has, so if any of the others who moved ever aspired to reconnect and settle any scores, they may have missed their chance. Any ghost-classmates who want to apologize to me for kicking my ass in elementary school knock-hockey can contact me care of my agent.
Another kid who switched to the local Jesuit high school after eighth grade made a less successful, but equally memorable, appearance at my high school in our senior year. He had money from some combo of family wealth and investments, and he turned up in our high-school parking lot one day after school in a sports car, apparently intent on impressing his old classmates. He was nonplussed to find that those people he encountered weren’t all that excited to see him again.
Anyway: It won’t happen, but I think every graduating class’s yearbook ought to include a “ghost page” with the names and/or old school portraits of kids who moved out between K and 12. After all, the story of a graduating class does not belong only to those who walk across the stage.
(This principle is much broader than high school graduating classes. Will the story of the Beach Boys belong to the final group of people who ever take a stage as the Beach Boys? Is the story of the Montreal Expos the exclusive property of the ragged bunch of ballplayers who last took a major-league field in Expos uniforms? Is the story of a house that’s slated for demolition simply the history of the last family who lived there, during their years of occupancy? Heavens, no.)
The Ghost Page would be extra work, and no doubt there would be some misspelled names and mis-attributed photos here or there.
But it would cement those kids’ cameo roles in the shared history of the class, and settle a whole bunch of later arguments after the Class of Two-Thousand-Whatever starts to lose its collective memory: “That kid … the one who moved to Seattle in sixth grade. What was his name?”
It might also help resolve the misconceptions that will arise after some ill-informed, starry-eyed member of the Class of Two-Thousand-Whatever starts incorrectly insisting that the kid who sat in the corner in fifth grade staring at his shoes is now the leader of a multiplatinum pop-punk band. (You know how that stuff gets started; wouldn’t it be great to have a tool to end it?)
And while my son probably couldn’t care less about being included on a Ghost Page, some of those kids who (got) moved might kinda like the idea.
Who knows? Just another intriguing theoretical that won’t become reality.
Tomorrow night, when the graduates in Pennsylvania walk across the stage at Lehigh University’s basketball arena, my younger son will probably be in his room or on his video game system, unwinding from a summer shift of work.
Perhaps he will think of them.