A big throwback to 20 years ago

This weekend is my twenty-year high school reunion. Mathematically, it’s accurate, but in my brain, it feels as though the years have been miscalculated, like we still have another decade to go.

My high school experience was unique from a lot of my peers because I attended an all-girls college prep school. In keeping with the mishmash that was my entire educational experience, I went from being a freshman at a large, predominantly African-American high school on the south side of Atlanta to being a sophomore at a small, predominantly Caucasian, all-girls school in the Scenic City. Before that, I attended a Dept. of Defense school on a military base in West Germany, and before that… you get the picture. If anything, I knew how to adapt.

I will never forget the day Dad told me I was going to GPS. He had retired from the military and had just come home from a long contract job at Guantanamo Bay. We were supposed to move there, or somewhere near there, or something. I can’t recall the specifics, but I remember talking to Corey about what it might be like to live near Jamaica. Then, when I wasn’t paying attention, the plans changed. Dad got a job at The McCallie School in Chattanooga, an all-boys college prep school. We weren’t moving to Cuba after all. We were moving to Tennessee, and guess what? I could attend the sister school at a little discount. Doesn’t that sound great?

Um, pardon? 

No, it didn’t sound great, but it didn’t sound horrible either. Like every other move during my childhood, I would have to adapt and make friends, which is exactly what I did.

(Below: That time we made our rats Milli Vanilli…)

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It wasn’t easy though, and it was mainly due to the coursework. GPS was hard. Crazy hard. I wasn’t used to the academic demands, even though I was an honor roll student at my previous school. The “college prep” part was no joke.

That sophomore year? No, it wasn’t easy. I cried almost every day after lunch in Mr. Tumelaire’s Western Civ class, where I consistently earned straight C’s. Geometry was terrible, and the research papers nearly killed me. Plus, at more than 200 lbs., I could barely fit into the weird, potato-sack uniform. Sophomore year was nothing special.

(Below: Jenny and Jennie)

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My grades turned a corner the next year, as did my social life, and by the time I was senior, I’d clawed my way back to being an A/B student and I felt like a significant part of the school at large. I was vice president of the school’s literary group, a solid debate team member, and a teen staff writer for the city paper. To top things off, I met my future husband. 

I was also in the throes of terrible eating disorder, but that’s another story for another day.

(Below: The future President/CEO of United Way of Greater Chattanooga… Way to go, Lesley!)

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Though I wasn’t there from the beginning, I’m pretty sure senior year at Girls Preparatory School is the best year of all. May Day, Chapel Talks, Disney World, and all those wonderful free periods. Senior prank, Cat/Rat, the senior lounge, and leaving campus for lunch. The perks helped ease the course load and make me a little less stressed when walking into Madame Sutton’s Honors French III class, where no English was allowed. En Français, s’il vous plaît! 

(In the May Day photo below, I’m in the front row, left side, first girl from the center.)

Class of 1996 May Day

I’ve yet to attend a high school reunion. The five-year was too soon, as was the ten-year. Was there a fifteen-year? If so, I was probably in Texas. The twenty-year feels just right. We’ve grown into a our personalities and experienced real life. There have been marriages, divorces, and children. Some of us have lost parents and siblings, and some of us have survived cancer. Some of us are in the careers of our dreams, and some of us are still searching. A couple of us have already passed away.

(Below: I dearly loved my May Day dress. It was made of a linen-type drapery fabric that gave it a vintage feel. It was a dress I could’ve pulled from my mom’s closet when she was in high school.)

May Day 1996

I’m not sure how many ladies are attending the reunion this weekend, and I have no idea what my classmates remember about me in the three short years I attended GPS, but my memories are fond and full. Though I had serious reservations about continuing after my sophomore year, I graduated with gratitude over the experiences I gained there. I was fully prepared for college and I was privy to experiences I wouldn’t have had otherwise, like traveling to Key West to study Ernest Hemingway, becoming a Peer AIDS Educator, and getting an early start on my career as a journalist. 

(In the class photo below, I’m standing on the far left in a long, flowery skirt.)

Class of 1996 photo

To prepare for the weekend, I’ve uploaded a few playlists that instantly take me back to 1996. Tori Amos, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Dave Matthews Band, Bush… The boys are suffering for it. They especially didn’t know what to make of Tori. (“It’s kinda creepy,” said Jack.) I’ve showed them photos from my high school years and they’ve made a few sweet remarks. It’s a funny thing about photos – this was the pre-digital age. Most of the pictures I took were event-driven, with few everyday photos in the collection.

The largest chunk of photos are of Chuck and me in our sweetest, mushiest phase of dating. It’s not lost on me the significance of going to my high school reunion with my high school sweetheart. Though he had little to do with my GPS experience, he had much to do with my life at 17 years old. 

I’m not taking my camera to the reunion, but there will be no shortage of photos. I’ll be sure to share them. 

2 Replies to “A big throwback to 20 years ago”

  1. Jennie! Loved what you said! I came in 10th grade too. Crazy how fast it goes by. 20 years. Wow. Great seeing you.
    PS Love your hair!

    1. It was great to see you too, Casey! I forgot you started GPS in 10th grade. Jenny Parsons came up to me at the reunion and reminded me that she started in 10th! I think I was too afraid to notice who was in orientation with me!

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