I ran into a school classmate at a wedding last weekend, and the encounter launched me onto a three day trip down Blurred Memory Lane, destination 1991 high school yearbook.
Here’s what I realized: I will never relate–mentally, emotionally, or socially–to the peers of my youth as anything but peers. Looking at yearbook portraits of 14 year-olds, I don’t see 14 year-olds. I see 41 year-olds. These people do not appear to me the way that contemporary 9th graders appear. They strike me as full-fledged adults.
I recall with stunning precision the way I felt about many of them, because a brief glance at their photo 26 years on makes me feel the exact same way. This one intimidates me, because he’s so effortlessly cool. This one angers me; he’s so full of himself. Nowhere in my appraisal of the kids in these pictures is the kind of conditional appraisal of character and motive that marks my view of the high school students I work with today, people who are still developing and trying on identities and forming convictions. Instead, I size them up as contemporaries and slot them into a category that is no less rigid for its age: friend, potential friend, foe, crush, bully, nerd.
The picture that receives the least charitable assessment is the one bearing my own name. Still, today, that little black and white box appears to hold a person whom every other coiffed-hair 9th grader on the page is looking at in judgment. It’s not true, of course, but try telling that to pimply, lanky adolescents.
Hardly less difficult: try telling it to those adolescents grown up counterparts.