Tuesday, September 29, 2009

HS Reunion: Clueless in Topeka

I attended my 40th high school reunion this past weekend. It was my first-ever -- I was a new kid in a class of some 650, was shy, quiet, relatively studious and decidedly not cool, so my memories of that time are not particularly fond.

But a high school reunion is something everybody ought to experience once, and by now enough time has elapsed for life and gravity to have leveled the playing field. Plus, as a practical matter, by the 40th, you're kind of looking at a now-or-never situation.

So I went, and came away with one overarching realization: I've been absent from the moment for a very long time.

This is a picture of my high school, one that doesn't do it justice at all. It's a fabulous building, designed in 1929, built during the first years of the Great Depression and opened in 1931.

It's testament to the value the citizens of Topeka placed on the education of its young people in the 1930s. Its young white people, anyway -- the elementary school that became the focus of Brown v Board of Education is less than a dozen blocks up the street....

As I took the tour of the building arranged by the reunion committee, I saw it not only through fresh (albeit bifocaled) eyes -- I saw it for the first time. It's got interior details to die for -- marble and granite, millwork, great wood beams and doors. A 2,000 seat auditorium as fine as any you might on the register of historic places.

I spent three years in that building, walking those halls every school day, attending assemblies, pep rallies, plays and concerts in that lovely auditorium, and didn't notice the beauty around me.

Not a bit of it.

Mr. James has his work cut out for him.


Chris Ronan said...

I enjoy visiting buildings that I haven't seen since my teenage years, or earlier. There are so many things you miss when you're younger, particularly at a place like Topeka High. I don't think the average Topekan (which I was for a brief period) has any idea how cool that building is.

Anonymous said...

When I lived there, I marveled at the exterior, but never went inside...what a beautiful building!

KD said...

I don't remember knowing you graduated from here! I did my student-observation here (1968-9?) in a French classroom, taught by a spirited middle-aged lady with a European (German?) accent who handled her enormous class like a sergeant with recruits, in a kind of small amphitheater room, like a music room, all in dark woods. She inspired me so much! I remember, also, the vast beauty of the ornate building itself. The tiny school in Chester, NE, built in the late 1800's was a jewel, also --- 24-ft ceilings of tin tiles, brick cupolas, archways, wooden staircases. It broke my heart to see its last school day dawn.

LO said...

K - Oh my gosh, you would have been there when I was! Mrs. Graumann (I suspect the woman you reference) was legendary - several classmates taking the tour specifically wandered down the language hallway to peek into her classroom. I was across the hall in Mr. Serrano's Spanish class.

Donna Wyckoff (Lisette) said...

KD and LO:

Yes, Madame was legendary! My favorite teacher of all time. I was probably in you class, KD. I think you will find this of great interest. I ran across it when I was doing research for a book review. It is a memoir of Madame's early life and her experiences during WWII and after.