Class of 1962 Reunion
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
High School Reunion by Victor Yipp
Welcome to the land of Bingo, Medicare, and retirement homes! I just received an invitation to my high school's 50th reunion.
Lane Technical High School, Chicago, Illinois, class of June, 1962. A top notch school, in the day--and in the here and now, as far as I can tell. It was obviously the best post-grammar school option for me--especially when you consider my only other option: Waller High School. There was one requirement for entering Waller High School: you had to live within two miles of its campus. With all due respect, Waller did not have a reputation as a stellar institution for secondary education. Moreover, my personal safety would have been an issue, as some of the more vicious graduates of my grammar school were lying in wait for their favorite punching bag.
But other than escaping my grammar school nemeses, other than better teachers, what difference in my life did it make, for me to attend Lane Tech?
Should I even care about going to my high school 50th reunion? I have not been in contact with any of my fellow students at Lane Tech for the past fifty years. I was not a jock, I wasn't a class officer, and I was not popular. At best, maybe I was in the second or third tier of popularity.
The invitation encourages me to "reunite with your classmates and to relive those memorable years you spent together." Memorable years! My god, I would sooner forget some of the episodes that defined my high school years. For instance, somehow in my senior year, I found myself on the Student Council, the worst place for a painfully shy boy. I never volunteered to be a member of this august body. Usually, I steered away from activities where I had to actually talk with another human being, preferring instead to write for the school magazine andyearbook, or pore over old pennies at the Stamp and Coin Club. However, one day, in the largehall where Student Council met, a microphone was shoved into my hand; I was told to commenton a matter before the council. Comment? After some indecipherable whispers I melted backinto my seat, totally embarrassed, never to be called upon again that semester.
But I'm sure that incident helped encourage me several years later to join Toastmasters,an international speaking club. I learned the basics of public speaking and competed in speechcontests. I even started a Toastmasters chapter when I worked at Commonwealth Edison. Twentyyears later, could it have been in the back of my mind as I stood on the roof of the four storysegregation unit at Stateville Penitentiary? (More a bit later on why I happened to be on the roofof the segregation unit at Stateville.) In direct competition with the yelling and cursing ofhundreds of prisoners, I had to bellow at the top of my lungs to the guards on the ground floor,"DAMN IT! GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"
It says in my yearbook that I was a Science Fair Winner. I can't for the life of me recallwhat my science fair project involved, so how can I share this so-called memorable moment? Myproject was probably math-related. I was kind of a math whiz in high school, with all duemodesty of course. But who knows, maybe winning a Lane Tech science fair steered me towarda math degree at IIT. Maybe it helped me start a career in IT, finding a job with a NASAcontractor after graduation, writing computer programs simulating the trajectory of guidedmissiles. I was even fortunate enough to play a small part in the Apollo mission, writing acomputer program to simulate the Lunar Excursion Module Abort Guidance System, where thelunar module had to return to orbit if it was unable to successfully land on the moon.
But there's no question I enjoyed my Journalism class and writing for the Tech Prep and Arrowhead. I especially savored the special pass "Tech Preppers" had, which permitted us freedom to roam the high school during the latter class periods. All you had to do was flash your ID card before the hall guards or a teacher, and you were on your way. In fact, I deviously altered my card to allow me to roam around school the entire day! Well, maybe my involvement as a Tech Prepper guided me, in my late fifties, to starting an MFA degree in Creative Writing, writing a novel (as yet unpublished), writing articles for the local newspapers, and editing and publishing an anthology of my writing group's works.
And had I not gone to Lane Tech, I would not have been exposed to Mr. Cox, Chemistry teacher. It is commonplace to have several versions of a standardized test available, so you don't have to give the same version each semester. But Mr. Cox actually passed out one of the versions of his test in class, so we could study the questions in preparation for our exam. We could have gone along with this idea, taken the easy way out, and ensure ourselves of a good grade. But some of us thought this was improper, unethical. Different versions of a test often have similar or even duplicate questions. We prepared a petition complaining against this practice, signed it, and presented it to the principal. A few days later, Mr. Cox lambasted us in class. He said we betrayed him. Nevertheless, he stopped the practice.
Maybe that incident helped me decide to go to law school and become an assistant attorney general for the State of Illinois, defending prison wardens when they were sued by inmates for violation of their civil rights. And, incidentally, defending myself from the suspicions of some wardens that my sympathies were aligned more with the ones who were behind bars. Perhaps to test my loyalty to my clients, I was "invited" to spend a day on the roof of the segregation unit at Stateville Penitentiary.
Of course, I am only speculating on possible later life influences from my teenage years at a very special high school, what I was exposed to, what challenges, what successes I had. Perhaps seeds from Lane Tech were planted over the ensuing half century of my life, perhaps seeds have yet to be planted. I feel they were. Moreover, from the perspective of fifty years, maybe this is a good time to reflect on one's life in general. Maybe this is a good time to share those reflections, those past experiences, with those with whom it mattered the most -- your fellow students.
But you know what? For all the hundreds of different classes, activities, and sports Lane Tech had to offer, there was one subject I received absolutely no assistance on. This is a real gap in an otherwise top-of-the-line school curriculum. Many of us in our Medicare years are sorely in need of preparation, of support, of Honors classes even, for this one subject that fell through the cracks at my alma mater. Specifically: HOW WILL I EVER BE ABLE TO RETIRE?