John Spevak: 50th school reunion reveals timeless truths, shared values

July 11, 2013 

Not everyone looks forward to high school reunions, but I was generally positive as my 50th approached in Illinois this past spring.

The event afforded an opportunity for reconnecting with John, one of my best friends over the years. John and I not only were classmates in high school, we were roommates in graduate school.

John and I had connected five years ago, for our high school class's 45th reunion (and the first I attended). John traveled from Minnesota, I from California, and we both enjoyed the experience. Since then, we had seen each other only once, for a short visit in San Jose.

For the 50th reunion, I knew I would see two other classmates who have been long-time friends: Dave, who attended both high school and college with me as a fellow English major; and Finian, with whom I've kept in close touch for a half-century.

Three good friends with whom to reunite: That's worth a 2,100-mile weekend trip.

As the reunion approached, I realized I would also see several other guys (they would all be guys; I went to an all-boys high school) who had confirmed they would attend: Ken, my chemistry lab partner in high school; Ed, a grade school as well as high school classmate; and Phil and Paul, two other friends with whom I'd shared eight years of education.

Once in Lisle, Ill., the town of our reunion and our high school, I reconnected with several classmates I had seen at our last reunion, including Tom, who kept all classmates connected the last few years; Murph, who worked with Tom to organize the 50th reunion; and Rick, who had flown in from Washington state.

I was also pleased to see other classmates who were not at the 45th reunion, some of whom I hadn't seen for 50 years. Perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing Bill, with whom I had spent many hours at high school football and basketball games.

Bill, like me, had gone through Air Force basic training in San Antonio, Texas. He served as an officer, while I was an enlisted man. After retiring, Bill continued to live in Texas and work as a contractor who specialized in intelligence.

Bill was the same good guy I had known in high school. During breakfast with our mutual friend Dave, we reconnected as though it had been 50 minutes since we last talked, not 50 years.

In the months since, I've had some time to reflect on the experience. I realize that the 35 guys (out of the 134 in our senior class) who came together shared a sense of values.

For 50 years we have been trying to put into practice the values our high school teachers, most of whom were Benedictine monks, had instilled in us. (The monks lived in a monastery across the street from the high school.)

The Benedictines' motto is "ora et labora," work and pray. The monks at our high school, as teachers and administrators, exemplified that motto. They also instilled in their students the need to make the most of God-given talents and the importance of living life to the fullest.

Many from the Class of 1963, following the monks' example, spend their retirement volunteering, giving back to communities that helped them when they were younger.

These men also value life. We were all well aware of the many classmates who had died. We honored the memory of the 28 who had died — 28 out of 134 graduates — or one in five.

As 67- and 68-year-old men, we all realized our own mortality, be it in combat in Vietnam, from physical or psychological injuries sustained in the military, from some bizarre accident, or from a short or long illness.

We all understand the significance of living a life based on transcendent values and the importance of treasuring the time we have left.

Maybe that's something we should have learned in 1963, when we were young. But we clearly have that understanding now.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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