Twenty years later, what have we become of us?

It’s a sobering thought that for my school’s Year 12 class, next year will be twenty (count ’em – twenty!) years since we filed out of school for the last time.

Yesterday I was a kid on the bus, talking with some mates about how life would be when we were really, really old – like 21! Year 10, endless rainy days and the wonder of what lay ahead don’t seem that long ago – and yet, they are.

Have the dreams we shared as we sat at back on the Invicta bus at it trundled its way down Maroondah Highway to school and back each day been realised?

The promise and anticipation of moving forward to those reunions you perhaps dread or look forward to, depending on your view of yourself then as it compares to who ‘you’ are x number of years later has been reduced dramatically with technology. My school has a student alumni association, lots of information about where people are and what they do, and past student sporting associations, for example. Added to that is Facebook! What a revelation that was when it came into being not all that many years ago – suddenly grainy memories of people you kind of knew but didn’t really come into bold life as their pages link with yours. The quiet one who is a uni lecturer, the talented sporting kid who ended up working in the sports industry, the quick-witted kid who went into PR. LinkedIn, Google, Twitter.

I was extremely fortunate to be at a school I loved, and since leaving have been back numerous times – sometimes to just see the place, other times for functions. Many of the teachers I looked up to and admired have either moved on or retired, but the lessons from them as professionals – and people – still loom large in my life twenty years later. I wonder if they know that? I wonder how they saw my year – my mates? I wonder, as we did, if they looked at us then and made judgements as to how we would turn out – whatever the criteria for that was?

Some of the people I went to school with are no longer with us – I lost a couple of good mates during my school years and then just after we graduated to cancer. Some of us lost parents. Perhaps the perception of a school being a cocoon can only go so far. Life’s reality could not necessarily be stopped at the front gate.

If anything, I was totally unprepared for life post school – and I was one of the lucky ones with a job to go to, and then uni to be deferred. I suspect now the students I see each day on the train going to work are more worldly, more attuned to the issues they will face after they walk out that metaphorical gate for the last time. If Facebook doesn’t make the world smaller, then Google and Twitter surely must. We were not naive by any stretch – I recall approaching the end of Year 12 with a sense of unbridled excitement and delight about getting out and into the world – but we were of an age that hadn’t seen the Internet come into wide use.

Turning 18 in Year 12 meant freedom. Some of us did the very adult thing (we thought!) and went to the Melbourne Cup, dressed in shirt, tie, suit jacket – and shorts and gumboots. No doubt extremely naff for many others, but when you lived in Lilydale, going to the city was a long way away – let alone the other side of the city. We ate our chicken, we drank our tepid beer, and we bullsh*tted to each other about life and what it would be like after school.

Not all of us can ‘do’ a CJ in West Wing, and get up and talk about the promise of a generation, or whatever she was talking about before her phone rang and she was called back to DC. What is the promise of a generation, anyway? Are the dreams of my mother and her friends in the late 1960s, as they sat there staring out from their school yearbook any different to those of my peers – or those of my nephews and nieces as they go through their schooling? Each generation may think it’s better (you baby boomers left us withthis?!) – though I can’t but help wonder if the graduating speeches I fortunate to hear working with schools in Canberra in recent years echo the ones we heard, fidgeting, year after seemingly interminable year at our school, waiting our turn.

The challenge of knowing who we are today (albeit perhaps with a child and extra chin or two) is to recognise who we were then – and to come to terms with the gap, if there is one, between the dreams we dreamed then – and the reality of ourselves today. Do reunions simply hold a mirror up to each of us and demand we judge what we see?

Perhaps – just perhaps, 20 years out will be an opportunity for some of us to take stock, force ourselves to look at what our teachers had written in our final reports about us as people we could be, and consider what we wanted ourselves to be, and try, each day, just a little, to reconcile our dreams.

The promise of one’s generation isn’t about changing the world, necessarily, (though we should!) but instead about recommitting to whatever we promised ourselves in our quietest moments as we contemplated being what we could become of ourselves. Perhaps that’s what our teachers were trying to tell us all along. Keep the faith. Look to the hills. Lift up your eyes. Believe in the future. Make it. Own it.

Be – and back – yourself.