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Staying connected took work with occasional phone calls or a snail mail letter, and news sometimes felt achingly slow to arrive when it couldn’t be sent by text.
The high school lunchroom was a figurative partitioned food tray with separated cliques — the jocks, theatre dorks, “pretty people,” and tech heads. We had all in the time in the world to figure out what to do tomorrow. We’ve all earned our fair share of emoji reactions over the years, often surprised by what we’ve achieved or how we’ve failed. Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them. Flip through a photo album depicting the last class of the century’s early years: Arms draped over shoulders at Little League games, the third boy from the right with his eyes closed.
We mixed in class when forced into group work and all got lost in the crowded halls during passing periods but our divisions — and labels — were clear. I knew when I walked out of the graduation ceremony 20 years ago, I was leaving town and never looking back. We’ve lost limbs in war, walked out on domestic abuse, battled chronic pain … Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly . An awkward image with our parents on the night of the homecoming dance, red-eye from the flash obscuring an attempt at a sophisticated smoky eye.
Our biggest concern was a sibling logging on to the dial-up internet for an epic AOL IM chat that clogged the landline.
But then the Columbine school shooting happened just mere weeks before our graduation day. Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.
We came and went from our open high school campus, grabbing rides to the Burger King down the street or Slurpees from the 7-11.
After school, we waited tables for less than minimum wage, then holed up in our rooms doing homework, isolated from each other.
And the twin towers collapsed on September 11 a few years later as we walked between college classes. Closing in on 40, I mourn the days of folding nonsense notes into origami and am seriously considering a career change. Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either. Long before Tinder, we watched romances blossom while laying out yearbook pages and riding long hours in coach buses to track meets, at Friday night football games and post-prom parties.
AOL IM led to ICQ led to Facebook and shared Google Docs and Slack. I literally run away from the stress with a daily jog — a little bit slower and a little bit shorter than my runs were 15 years ago. Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s . Today’s ghosting was yesterday’s scouting out a new path to science class in order to avoid “that guy” we kind of liked last week.
What I had to offer was a simple piece of advice: “Wear sunscreen. The class of 1999 was also the recipient of the spoken word piece, “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” released by Baz Luhrmann in 1998 based off of music from the film and an essay written by columnist Mary Schmich that was published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. Though Schmich’s essay (and Luhrmann’s original rendition of the song) addressed the class of 1997, it was the single released in 1999 with its salutation addressed to “ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’99” that implanted in our minds after playing the song endlessly on our Discmans.