A bunch of people I went to high school with… the smart and interesting sub-set of the 900 or so I graduated with… got together last week. I wasn’t that hot on going, but didn’t need to decide, since a national conference I wanted to attend came up at the same time. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would have decided to go, otherwise.
I was kind-of part of that group. Mostly, the people who took physics and chemistry overlooked the fact that I could just as easily have flapped my arms and flown across town as pass physics. My price of admittance was honor’s English class where I interacted with them, and won them over with my compulsive word association puns and general smart remarks. I have word association disease, which doesn’t qualify me for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but does cause hardship to those in my family.
I had the advantage of going to a small elementary and what we quaintly called “junior high school.” My class consisted of roughly 25 students (some came, some went) who were either children of university faculty, wealthy, or had parents who were interested in seeking an above average education for their kids… or, all of the above, I guess. It was a “campus school,” and it was really good for me, mostly because the kids were really nice, and smart and fun. I was pretty good at sports, social studies, and English class, so I think people overlooked the science and math shortcomings.
As we left the womb of 25 and entered a school with 2600 or so students (only 10th-12th grades), it was difficult to find how I fit in. I was good enough to make the JV basketball team, but not good enough to play. I played on the JV baseball team, but baseball in April in Wisconsin is no bargain, between the snow showers and the constant strong winds. I eventually landed at the school newspaper, and it saved my academic life. That was one area where I was somebody, to paraphrase Jessie Jackson.
So, this little reunion… I’m sure it was great. A few of the people who were there got together last summer, and I enjoyed very much seeing them. The expanded group of invitees this year included some people I didn’t have great feelings about. My recollection was they weren’t as open to somebody like me who wasn’t even considering an Ivy League school. I was lucky to get into college at all.
And, to be honest with you, I find it exhausting trying to compete in the “here’s how successful I am” game. Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted they’re all successful, but while I think I’ve done okay for myself, I still feel this sense of “not smart enough for physics” enveloping me. I want to tell them I can say all the states in alphabetical order in less than 30 seconds, and then do it! (I really can.) I can just hear them. “Boy, here I thought Peter wouldn’t amount to much, but did you hear how fast he rattled off those states?”
So, I’ll leave it up to you to decide how shallow and insecure I am. I’m regretting a little that I wasn’t there, and if a similar gathering happens next year, I might feel differently. Maybe I’ll have worked out some of these stupid issues. Maybe I’ll win the Nobel Prize, or something. That’ll show ’em!