The “10” Year Reunion

I graduated from high school in 2004. Therefore, one could reasonably assume that a 10-year reunion would take place in 2014. As November came to a close, I assumed that meant that there was going to be no 10-year high school reunion. Just as well, I thought. I don’t keep in touch with any of these folks anymore. If I cared to know what was going on, I would have kept touch from the get-go.

Then an email popped up in December. Fellow Asian sensation classmates Gerry, Catherine, and Elaine claimed that a 10-year reunion for our class was in the works.

To go, or not to go

Since there wasn’t much time left in 2014, it was decided that the reunion would take place in 2015. The date that was chosen was the weekend of March 7th and 8th, which my National autocross friends may recognize as the date of the Blytheville Pro Solo.

Preparing the Miata for the Blytheville Pro Solo.

After waffling about for a while on what my course of action would be, I decided that autocrossing was a better spend of my time than meeting up with some people that I hadn’t bothered thinking about in several years, and made preparations for what would be my first autocross event of the season. I grabbed fellow friend Emanuel as my tire warmer, borrowed a truck from my friend and neighbor Justin, and made plans to rent a U-Haul trailer so I could tow my Miata down to Arkansas instead of potentially driving a car with no winter tires in winter. (Go figure.)

As it turned out, there was more winter than anyone expected for the month of March, especially south of the Ohio River. The Thursday before the Blytheville Pro Solo was to take place, the SCCA National Office announced that, due to heavy snow that was severe enough for the city of Blytheville to place restrictions on driving, the Pro Solo was being moved to a later date. Rats.

I put the Miata back into the garage and back on its battery tender, returned Justin’s truck, and packed my Focus ST with a weekend’s worth of clothes and film and hit the road for Champaign on Friday evening. I would end up going to this “10” year reunion after all.

What is Uni High?

Uni High, also known colloquially as simply “Uni,” is not your typical high school. For one, most high schools don’t have entrance exams that you need to take in order to get in. And despite being in a pretty populous area of about 200k+ residents across Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, there were, at the time I was a student there, no more than 300 students. There were also five grades instead of your usual four: subfreshman, (affectionally called “subbies,”) freshman, sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

We also have fuckin’ gargoyles adorning the outside of our building. That’s gotta count for something.

The full name of the school is University Laboratory High School. Attached to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I), it is to serve as a laboratory of sorts for different approaches to teaching. Back when I was a student, each class was sized at 60 students — these days, they’ve upped their acceptance rate to a whopping 65 students per incoming class — and, as I mentioned before, you had to take a test, the Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT), and fill out an application and hoped you got in. If you’re thinking “hmm, this sounds a lot like applying to college,” you’re right.

Imagine that you’re doing this when you’re in the 6th grade. Or the 7th grade.

Hence, the subfreshman class, which was a combined 7th/8th grade class. Or, just “8th” grade if you prefer. Anyway, I applied when I was in 6th grade, and consequently was able to “skip” a grade when I got into Uni. (Apparently, there’s been movement towards accepting more 7th graders than 6th graders into the incoming classes. My brother Tony got into Uni after applying as a 7th grader, after having been rejected as a 6th grade applicant.)

Being a school that is so closely linked to the university, a great deal of students, if not the vast majority, were the kids of U of I professors. I was one of the few kids that didn’t have parents who were professors.

Despite most of us being the children of some of the smartest people in academia, we ended up being your typical ragtag group of foolish and sometimes incredibly stupid teenage children. Having intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean you make smart decisions, which meant the antics were just a numerous as the expected scholarly activities one might expect from a bunch of kids who beat out a bunch of other kids for admittance though a college-lite admissions process.

As for our particular class, we were pretty friendly to each other. I don’t remember much in the way of bullying between members of our class, and all of us were on pretty good terms with everyone else. When we graduated, some of the faculty proclaimed we were one of the closest-knit groups of students that they had seen.

Then college happened, and real life after that. After I graduated from high school, I only bothered to keep in touch with three or so people. Even though a significant chunk of the 55-strong class ended up attending the U of I like I did, I rarely bothered trying to keep social ties with even the former classmates that were physically less than a 10 minute bike ride away from my dorm room.

So when it turned out that the date of the 10-year reunion fell on the same date as the Blytheville Pro Solo, I didn’t feel any remorse for missing out on talking with old classmates and going racing instead.

But in the end, I’m glad that Blytheville got pounded with snow.

Lunch at Uni High

I arrived back in Champaign a mere 30 minutes before midnight, Central time. There was a get-together on Friday night that I would end up missing. The first event of the reunion that I would attend would be a lunch at the school itself on Saturday at noon.

I was one of the first to arrive. Grayson and Michael Greenstone were already there, and present were some of the folks on the alumni outreach committee and three faculty, Mr. Russel, Mr. Murphy, and Frances. Before long, more people started trickling in, and we had a group about two dozen strong milling about on the first floor of Uni High.

In addition to the usual talk about where we were in our lives, there was much discussion about the visual changes on the first floor of the school. What caught my mind first were the trophy cases built onto the walls of the first floor.

A close inspection of these trophy cases revealed that the vast majority of them were procured in the years after 2004. Just as fitting, as we weren’t all that good at sports, but not for the reasons that you’re probably thinking of. There is no cut policy in sports at Uni — if you want to play, you get to play. Not that we can be picky about who we put on our sports teams; instances where nearly have the guys in the class were playing on the basketball team, or half of the girls were in volleyball were common, since you’ve only got 30 of each gender to choose from in each class. And because many of us had skipped a grade, were a physically scrawny bunch. Yeah, a subbie Uni High basketball team consisting of boys one year younger than their big middle school opponents really isn’t going to do much.

A reshuffling of the school conferences have conferred Uni High a much better chance at winning things against other similarly sized schools. The fact that most of the students come in without having skipped a grade also helps immensely.

But I still wasn’t expecting to see that many trophies out there. And some of them were big trophies.

The student hand prints had also spilled out from the student lounge and onto the walls of the first floor. Our class was the trailblazer, putting our hand prints outside the door of the student lounge back then, as there simply wasn’t any more space on the walls inside the student lounge to accommodate more. These hand prints are a Uni High tradition: every graduating class puts up their hand prints, marking their time at Uni High for all future generations to behold. At least until Uni needs to repaint the walls. It hasn’t happened for the past 50+ years, and doesn’t look to be happening anytime soon, so I think the Class of 2004’s hand prints will be just fine for as long as we’re alive.

But yeah, the hand prints are spreading up and down the first floor of the school. Now Uni can never repaint the first floor hallway.

One conversation I remember from the milling about before lunch was with Mr. Murhpy, my music teacher for choir and orchestra. All of us 2004 alumni were given a name tag that also bore the picture we had chosen for our yearbook. Mr. Murphy remarked that, just a few days prior, he and some others realized that the toddler sitting on my lap in my yearbook photo was my brother Tony, now attending the school himself as a student. Boy, that hit me square in the gut — a lot more time than I had allowed myself to think had passed had passed. Mr. Murphy noted that Tony also looked just like me, but was way more talkative. Sounds about right.

We settled down for lunch, which was Panera sandwiches and an amply supply of Girl Scout cookies. We were given an update on Uni’s future plans, as well as the steps being taken to remedy a financial situation that was borne out of the state of Illinois’ perpetual broke-ness. Finally, there was a soft pitch for donations to the Uni fund. Yep, just like a college, we high school alumni also get requests for donations. (Does your high school do the same? Probably not, I think.)

After lunch and a group photo, we got a tour of the high school. And my, things have changed in the 10 years that we’ve been gone.

We toured a classroom on the first floor that will filled with the latest and greatest in A/V technology that would embarrass your average Ford Motor Company conference room. There was a floating white board with a projector doohickey that could also record your activity on the floating white board. Then you could take that content and send it to another large screen on a different wall, this screen also flanked by movable and removable white boards.

The desks were no longer desks, but weirdly shaped tables that could be combined in many different ways to accommodate 2 or 4-person groups, or create a big circle. Slightly transparent drapes on the windows cut down on glare while still offering a view of the outside world, important for reducing glare on students’ laptops while not being a depressing dungeon.

Did I mention laptops? Why yes, every single student at Uni High is now issued a laptop. In addition to your typical physical text books, they also have electronic text books and resources at their disposal. Damn, kids have got it good these days.

Then again, I’m pretty sure that not every high school in this nation has the ability to provide all their students with laptops and whatnot. And if I’m being honest, I’m thinking all of this stuff has to be present at current universities. Still, giving high school students the same kind of technology resources that are widely available at a major university (such as the U of I) sounds like a good idea that should spread to other schools.

We continued touring the school, slowly advancing up each of the three main floors and exploring some of the old classrooms where we had taken classes more than ten years ago.

While there were many new shiny technology things in some of the classrooms, much of what we saw was also reassuringly the same. In the second floor library, the layout had changed, but the magazine rack was still there, along with some comfy stuffed chairs directly in front of it. Throughout much of high school, I would quietly finish my lunch and then come in to the library, grab the latest issue of Car and Driver, and plop down into a chair and read it until it was time for class. Frances was the librarian, and as the guardian of the library and all of the car magazines and World War II books inside, she was one of my favorite people back then.

We gather in the library during our tour of Uni.

The school also looks like it has never been given a new coat of paint on anything. The walls were still a golden off-white, a stark contrast of old-as-shit with the new bundles of Ethernet cabling that were a couple inches in diameter running up and down the second floor hallway.

Up on the third floor, it looks like nothing has changed, with the exception of the appearance of many, many chairs and tables. Confused, I asked Marianne Downey, the person giving us the tour, if students still sat on the floor. We encourage them to sit in chairs now and off the floor, she laughed. The third floor of the school is the subbie floor, where all the subbie lockers are. Back when I was a subbie, I remember just sitting on the floor when eating lunch or doing homework in between classes. Man, students now have it good.

As a slight tangent, the kitchen has also changed, for the better. Uni High doesn’t have a lunchroom, but it does have a kitchen with some tables in it and some microwaves. Back when I was a Uni student, the kitchen would be where I microwaved my lunch, or bought pizza from a pizza sale. Sometimes, I’d go outside and across the street to buy lunch from Darrald’s, in retrospect one of the greasiest but delicious food trucks in all of East Central Illinois. But now they’ve got something like a dozen microwaves down there in the kitchen. Holy crap. That would have been nice to have back then.

Back to the third floor, the juxtaposition of old vs. new came into clear focus when we strolled through the chemistry classroom. It looked exactly the same as I remembered it, from the tan brown workstations topped with chipped black counter tops, to the tiny desks in the front of the room. But next to the window, I found a charging cart with something like 20 or so MacBook Pros and about a dozen iPads. I picked up an iPad and played around with it. It was loaded with several chemistry apps. I amused myself by looking up the boiling point of some chemical compound before putting the iPad back. Kids these days have it so good.

We finished the tour with the top floor, the North and South Attics. This is where the theater performances and the music classes take place. Once again, nothing had changed visually in the ten years since we had left. Marianne did tell me that they made some significant changes to the HVAC up here, so there’s that.

We classmates hung idly around the musical instruments and kept chatting until it was time to go.

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