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My 61st High School Reunion

Roy Christman is a retired political science professor and has a farm in Pennsylvania.
Roy Christman's book of his essays from over a decade of articles for this magazine is now available. The price is $22 including postage. E-mail Roy at: hiramc@ptd.net.

It was supposed to be our 60th, but last year was a bad year for old people to be holding any kind of a reunion, and we are old. Palmerton High School, Class of '60, is now in its late seventies. The men are bald and rather thick around the middle. The women have aged much better; perhaps they take better care of themselves.

In The American Condition, Richard N. Goodwin noted that for many people, the last real community they experienced was in high school. In the 1950s Palmerton seventh through twelfth grades were in the same building, which meant we were together for six years during the most difficult time in our lives — adolescence. No surprise we feel a bond.

It's a cliche that nobody has a good high school experience, whether it be the nerds, the gay kids, the head cheerleader, or the captain of the football team. At our fiftieth reunion some classmates complained bitterly about how they were treated, still smarting from slights and insults.

I could tell my own sad stories, including skipping the Senior Prom or being told in gym class, "You run pretty fast for a fat kid." On the other hand, I had a number of inspiring teachers who saw potential in me, and classmates who have remained good friends for the past 61 years. On balance, I had positive experiences and hold fond memories.

Palmerton High offered four tracks: college prep, commercial, industrial arts (known as shop), and "general," which was for students who wanted a high school diploma but didn't fit in the other three groups.

Only boys took shop. I had to suffer through one shop class in 7th grade, I did make a bird feeder that lasted about 40 years, although my dad repaired it at least three times. It was in the back yard, continuing to remind me that I lacked basic woodworking skills. Girls took a mandatory Home Economics class, and they probably hated it as much as I hated shop.


The "commercial" track meant secretary or stenographer. Girls had basically four career paths. They could be secretary, teacher, nurse or housewife. We did have one guy in the commercial grouping, but no one ever made fun of him. He was the largest guy in our class and later played for the Cleveland Browns.

Pregnant girls were not allowed to attend school. Maybe pregnancy was considered catching. I should note here that the boys who caused those girls to get pregnant were not kicked out.

At the first reunion, five years after graduation, we all seemed so adult. Many of us had married, some of us had kids, some had graduated from college, a few were in grad school, guys were in the armed forces, others had jobs.

Michael Medved and David Wallechinsky wrote a best selling book after the 10th reunion of Palisades High School in West L.A. entitled What Really Happened to the Class of '65. The book, later made into a television anthology, contained interviews with over twenty of the graduates. Almost any high school reunion could furnish material for a similar book.

In our class we produced doctors, lawyers and Vietnam vets. We've had deaths by suicide, traffic accident, breast cancer, and a limb falling from a tree. Some of us have celebrated over 50 years of marriage, others have been divorced more than once. Some of us have come out of the closet (which certainly was not done in 1960). A few of us are Trumpists.

In their report Medved and Wallechinsky noted a "sense of loss." I understand that. Most of us on the Reunion Committee believe this will be our last big event. We are holding it in the daytime because a number of classmates can't drive at night. Some have trouble walking. Those who live in California, Arizona or Texas may decide against the long trip. Future reunions will be small informal gatherings.

When we graduated in 1960, some of our parents were celebrating their 20th or 25th class reunions. How old they seemed to us.

~ Roy Christman





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