The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

My 40th High School Reunion

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The city of Pittsburgh[1] is the jewel of Western Pennsylvania. This wasn’t always the case. On some of its “better” days more than a generation ago, Pittsburgh was noted for its smoke-filled skyline. While the steel industry brought prosperity to the region, it also brought pollution. The Steel City long ago fixed its polluting smoke stacks and to the surprise of most Americans, Pittsburgh was named the “No. 1 City” in 1985, and in 2007 it was named “America’s Most Livable City” and the tenth cleanest city in the nation. Who would have thought it possible? Those of us who grew up there would have!

Pittsburgh did not let bad economic conditions get it down in the 1970s. It became a Renaissance City, moving from an industrial base to a more diversified economy. The greatest evidence for this is on the South Side. You have to see it to believe the transformation that has taken place. The steel mills are a distant memory. It’s the Phoenix of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s unique geography gave it another nickname—”The City of Bridges.” There are nearly 450 of them. If you want to go downtown, you’ll most likely need a bridge to get you there. I can always identify someone from Pittsburgh by the way he or she says “downtown” (dahntahn). The city of Ambridge, named after the American Bridge Company, attracted immigrants from around the world who were looking for work and a decent place to raise a family. With the growth of the steel mills, Ambridge became a world-wide leader in steel production used in the construction of many of the bridges.

Because of the hills that surround the Pittsburgh valley where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers converge, tunnels were carved through the rock. My grandfather, an Italian immigrant, worked in the Liberty Tunnels, affectionately known as the “Liberty Tubes.” Without these marvels of foresight, planning, and skilled engineering, Pittsburgh would have been a geographical curiosity on a tourist map.

On October 25, 2008 Carol and I attended my 40th high school reunion (see if you can spot me in this run through of the 1968 graduating class). I was part of the 1968 graduating class of Baldwin High School located in one of suburban regions surrounding Pittsburgh. The event was held at South Hills Country Club, a symbolic oasis of upward mobility smack dab in the middle of working class neighborhoods. I drove by its hedge-lined fence hundreds of times as a teenager, but that evening was the first time I had ever stepped on the property.

This was my first reunion, and I almost didn’t make it. A long-ago planned business trip out of the country was the obstacle. With some rearranging of schedules, getting up at four A.M. to catch a flight that connected in Atlanta with an hour window to make our connecting flight, I made the reunion.

Forty years seems like a long time, but they’ve passed quickly. If you’re in your teens and reading this, here’s bit of advice: Don’t procrastinate . . . challenge yourself . . . never under estimate your latent talents and gifts . . . remember that power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9-10) . . . make lots of the right kind of friends (Prov. 18:24)[2] . . . view adversities and obstacles as opportunities . . . listen to people who have failed and didn’t let failure defeat them . . . never rest on your laurels because they are as fleeting as the years.

Those on the planning committee did a great job putting the event together, as I knew they would. They were successful in high school, and as I learned that evening as I spoke with many of them, they have become successful since high school. I suspect that those who attend reunions are those who have had at least moderate success in life. Even so, my former classmates were modest in discussing their accomplishments. There was no bragging. In fact, in every conversation, I had to ask enough questions to get them to talk about their accomplishments. In the midst of the fun, renewed memories, and great food (there’s nothing like eating the way Pittsburghers do), humility was the unspoken word of the evening.

For me, and I know for the others who attended, there was a note of sadness as a list of those classmates who had died scrolled by on a screen (see video here). With each one of them, flashes of memory were provoked. The most vivid was of Ray Walker. He drove a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. I remember seeing him speeding up an empty lane on Route 51 as buses and cars crowded the other lanes with the roar of his engine slowly fading as he pulled further away from those of us stuck at the light in the left-turn lane. They will remain forever young for me since the last time I saw most of them was 40 years ago. Seeing those names was a sober reminder that no man knows his time (Ecclesiastes 9:12).

Looking back over 40 years forces you to do a lot of thinking. I wished I had gotten to know my classmates better. High school is such an awkward time filled with insecurities, and we cope with them in any number of ways. It’s a shame that we let these get in the way of establishing deep and lasting friendships at a young age. By the time we figure this out, we become different people with our own children in tow. These are the foibles of youth that we hope our children and grandchildren will not experience. But they will make similar mistakes, and that’s what life is all about. We become the people we are by working through the complexities, even the tragedies of life. Those who don’t understand these things live incomplete and miserable lives.

For American Vision readers, you’ll be glad to hear that a good number of my former classmates peruse this website regularly. The number of Christians I met was extraordinary. Bill D. was there. It was a providential conversation that I had with him in a pub in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1973 that led to a rapid domino effect of events that changed my life forever and brought me to this place in time. God’s ways are inscrutable.

I could go on to share so much more from that special evening. Time got away, and I was dead tired from a lack of sleep and extended travel. I wish there had been an opportunity to speak with everyone who had taken the time to attend. There were so many things I wanted to ask them. There was talk of a reunion in five years. Hopefully I’ll still have enough hair remaining on my head to make another appearance. Again, my thanks go out to all who made the event a memorable one.

Footnotes:
[1] Note the “h.”
[2] Take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000) and his section on making connections.

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