Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lives of Purpose

I Remember Fithian, 1969

It may be hard, when you look at a picture like this, to imagine that I attended a school that aspired to produce young men and women of not only good mind and character, but also good leaders. That had been the school’s intention for nearly 250 years, so why would it be any different for our class?

At the time, of course, we probably laughed off any adult insinuations to this effect. We were in high school in the late sixties. Although you’d never know it from our school dress code, it was a period of rebellion. The Vietnam War was still raging. Recreational drugs were just starting the migration from the back streets to the suburban cul de sacs.

Only a few of our classmates were so pretentious as to have assumed they were destined for leadership roles. Mostly we were an eclectic bunch of serious scholars, jocks, nerds, straights and gays, artsy types and stray kids like me who were just trying to hang on for survival.

We were expected to be Renaissance men and women, grounded in the classics, but prepared to embrace new ideas of science, the liberal arts and commerce. A long line of distinguished graduates had preceded us, and we were expected to continue that tradition. We were expected to have lives of purpose.

Since this was before computers, we read books. We watched movies. We went to lectures. We entered science fairs. We learned about art. We sang. We acted. We studied ancient and contemporary languages. We interned in places where we thought we might later make careers.

At the time, I knew some of our classmates would have remarkable lives. Enough of them came from families of such grounding that a certain level of success could be assumed to occur if they just followed in their parents’ footsteps. Some classmates were destined for predictable paths into the medical profession or law. Others were as predictably destined to become fine artists and designers.

But I had no idea just how diverse our class would be.

To be sure, there were a few rebels and a few bright young men and women of promise who were lost or sidetracked by alcohol. The careers paths of the lawyers, bankers and doctors played out pretty much as you’d expect them.

But among our class—there were only forty-eight of us, to begin with—a surprising number have made lives I would have never expected. One of my classmates is an architect who designs retractable roof systems for these huge sports stadiums you find in big cities. Among the others are:

· A well-known New York architect and interior designer.

· A senior administrator at one of the nation’s leading Ivy League universities.

· A strategic defense treaty negotiator.

· A forensic engineer.

· A State Department diplomat in the Middle East.

· A judge.

Members of our class build houses, sell cars and real estate and teach school. Several of us have started and run our own businesses. Many of us have raised children. Some have lost spouses. Not bad, overall. Our 40th reunion takes place later this fall. I’ll look forward to seeing what mischief my classmates are getting into at this stage of life.

I Remember Fithian, above, was shot during a senior class retreat held at Colonial Williamsburg. We spent several days there learning about late 18th Century colonial history through the writings of a Williamsburg resident of the time by the name of Philip Fithian. As this photograph shows, too much study of history will drive you to strangeness.


  1. From a group of 48, that's very impressive. Sounds like a good group of folks. Reunions are fascinating psychological studies. I laugh at my high school class--in the 11th year after I graduated, I got an invitation that read: "The better-late-than-never Reunion" and had to laugh. Only my class would even begin to think about that...

  2. It looks like a way high achiving group. You included. my class on the other hand had almost 600 grads, with a high number of low achiving slugs and it's share of criminals. Those of us that escaped to higher Ed and careers seems a real counterpoint to your class. Part of the problem with my class was the economics of the time in hard coal country. My reunions have been quite an eye opener. I think I'm finished with them. The folks I wanted to stay in touch with, I have, the rest well good luck see ya sometime.
    Later Chris