It was that class we took together, both out of our element. A business class, way outside our academic path, but it was really about what we we both passionate about, human interaction. The psychology major and the political science major, finding the “juice” of our college experience.
Our big assignment for the term was to get together every week, for a day, maybe a weekend, and spend time together, interacting, observing each other. And, most importantly, observing ourselves observing others and how we behaved, inwardly, within a group. We had to write about it all, without any real direction on what the professor wanted, how we were going to be graded.
It was, we agreed, standing outside in the hot evening after our class reunion dinner, the best experience of our undergraduate years, studying how people related with each other, how that really was the gist of becoming a better person, how we used those skills, those observations, in growing our lives, in making a real difference in the world.
We took our experiences together, all those late night conversations, the four years of living on campus during the social upheaval of the Vietnam War years, and went our separate ways. We kept in touch, sharing news of our careers, our marriages, our kids, and how our lives were enriched by what we learned at college, and in navigating our lives in the world.
The best things in our lives, we realized, weren’t the things we thought we’d do, once we graduated and moved on. Life happens, and we used our skills and brains to do unexpected things, growing ourselves and learning even more about life, and who we are.
One of the reunion organizers asked us to ponder whether or not we had changed the world, like we’d all talked about in those late night gatherings, and if we’d made a difference in our lives.
“Yes, indeed,” we answered, but not in the ways we had thought, back in the days of Watergate, and the week we staged a sit-in in the college president’s office, angry at Nixon bombing Cambodia.
The conversations that night were about good relationships, connecting with people, making a difference about how people felt about themselves, how we could make their lives better, simply by being who we were. No one showed their bank statements, their stock portfolios, their photos of their real estate or talked about their job titles, or the cars we drove to get here that night. We didn’t wear any fancy clothes. We laughed at the photos of our days on campus, the wild hair, how much beer we could drink back then, and the times when Angela Davis and Anais Nin spoke on campus.
We talked about the people we had become, how that one class, that one professor made all the difference to us as we went on about our lives, how we became better people, how forty years gives you a perspective on life and the world that we may not have had back during our days as eager, curious college students. And, who we are today is still about who we were then, curious, looking inward, and figuring out how we can connect with someone, and change their lives.
—Neal Lemery 6/27/15