Monday, August 18, 2008

The Reunion Book

So something interesting arrived in today's mail. It was sitting at the door (so it may actually have arrived by UPS, I don't know, I didn't pay attention) in a big fat fluffy envelope. The kind with the irritating tendency to emit small clouds of a substance that appears visually and texturally similar to blow-in insulation. As, in fact, this one did.

images.jpegIt was stickered as coming from the Stanford Alumni association and turned out to contain an interesting object called a "Reunion Book." I'd never heard of one of these before, so I assume that some of you are as ignorant as I was. It is a sort of reverse-yearbook, a "where are we now" of all the people you entered college with. Or graduated with. Or should have graduated with. I haven't really explored the details.

Everyone got a little one page spread of a then-and-now photo pair, a brief bio, a personal timeline, and a photo of their choosing. It turns out that if I'd done the conventional thing I would have graduated from college fifteen years ago. Wowsers. So I couple of interesting things: I'm not in it. I feel vaguely resentful that the alumni association apparently was able to track me down to get me a copy of the book but didn't get in touch with me in time to fill out my form or whatever was required to get my own page. Now, in all honesty, this omission was probably my fault. I tend to regard mail from the alumni association with a sort of irritated inevitability. I tend not to open it. I assume, based on my sample of the times I actually do open and read mail from them, that they want me to subscribe to something or donate something or attend an event.

It may shock those of you with a great deal of college pride that could do something so profoundly heretical. But the reality is that I regard college as sort of "a place I was for a while." This wasn't some sort of chemically induced stupor at work. I didn't discover alcohol until a few years into my education and even then played fairly lightly. And I never decided to pursue studies in Advanced Controlled Substances or anything.

College just wasn't the earthshaking, life changing event, for me, that it was for some others. No comment or criticism on either perspective, by the way. I actually wish I'd gotten a little more out of Stanford academically than I did. I pretty much treated the place as a big, hard high-school. I took my classes, did my work, and called it at that. By contrast, it amazes me how much Erica got out of her studies, capturing absolutely everything that school could provide. And sometimes I wonder what I could have gotten out of the Stanford experience if I'd had the realization (a) what an amazing place it was and (b) college isn't just a big, hard high school.

I also didn't graduate on time, but took a winding and indecisively exploratory path from start to finish. So I ended up loosing track with a lot of those freshman year friends that everyone tells you you'll never forget. I made new friends on the way, but by that time was living off campus and separated by a few crucial years (at that age) from most of those I was in classes with. Then, after spending too long there, I bolted for the Pacific Northwest and an all consuming few years at Amazon. I really only took two good friends from those days with me -- and neither of them from the freshman gaggle. It occurs to me, now that I think about it, that I might have dropped off the radar. And I suppose that'd be a fair thing to say.

I've tracked a few folks down from high school and Amazon via my Facebook presence, but had little luck with people from the college years. To at least some extent it was too large of a pool, and too long ago, to bring up any names. I knew I was missing something of this opportunity to reconnect, but could think of no way to drag all those names back from the dust laden vaults.

And then this giant book arrives, full of (almost) everyone from my freshman year. Now granted, all of those transitory friends from later aren't covered -- but this is at least a break in the case! I've just flipped through it a little and have yet to embark on some great quest, going page-by-page and launching Facebook/Internet searches for everyone who looks or sounds familiar. But here are a few interesting observations.

None of the people I looked at have gotten divorced -- in many cases they are still married to people they were dating when I knew them.

At least one person from my freshman class included a photo posing between Barack Obama and Oprah. I do not, however, think she was someone I knew.

Most of the people I looked at have families (kids) now. The rest have pets.

Almost everyone I looked at listed "hiking" or something similar as an interest.

Based on the photos, if I met most of them, now, I'd probably do a better job recognizing them that I would have expected.

How did we ever think the hair styles of that era looked good? Particularly the women's hair...

I really want to track some folks down and say hi...

Memories can come back when given a proper trigger.

Everyone seems to be doing well -- practicing in whatever profession or field I recall them as interested in when the left, and practicing successfully and at a fairly (or very) high level.

By and large, I found the lives to be pleasantly (and to some extent surprisingly) similar to my own. I'm not quite sure what I expected, but I think I harbored this belief that everyone I'd gone to school with had gone on to found startups, cure diseases, found countries, or win Nobel Prizes or Oscars or Olympic medals or Booker Book prizes. I think it is a continuing thread of insecurity I suffer whenever I look at some of the people I worked with at Amazon -- the ones who really got the bug and leveraged that experience and those contacts to remain (and climb) in the aggressive startup-founding-mandhouse of entrepreneurship. Whenever that hits me I have to remind myself that's not me. I'm a guy who works because he has to -- to provide for himself and his family and to enable the things that we really want to do. I don't fight the fight because I love the fight. I do what I have to -- and I'm fortunate enough to enjoy what I do and be good at it and to have the opportunity to work very hard and be well rewarded. And then I look at (and think of) those one-time co-workers of mine who went down the other path, my path, and raised families, went to school, traveled, and worked when they had to. Again, no judgement. Thank god for the compulsive entrepreneur. They are there to build companies, take risks, hang it on the line day after day. The world would be a very dull place without them.

But yet again, dear Reunion Book, I am pleased to see the world populated with (extremely) intelligent, hard working people who are out there doing what they do. And, I hope, loving what they do and finding themselves well rewarded for it. And, I hope, finding the time to go hiking or traveling or back to school or to write books or to make par at Pebble Beach or to chase down all of the extraordinary and wonderful dreams and goals that people should have. If you found a few companies, cure a disease, or win a couple of prizes on the way, then more power to you! But if you're working the day job, doing something fun on the side, and coming home to share nap time with your kids, congratulations just the same.

I'm a guy who loves nothing more than to come home and sit on the back patio with a glass of whisky, a laptop computer, and a cool breeze blowing by. And that's just exactly what I'm doing. Now I just need to start going page by page and searching Google and Facebook for everyone who looks or sounds familiar... See you soon, I've missed you more than I realized.

If you got here first (I can't be the only person with the "I'll Google people!" brainstorm), then leave a comment or drop me a line (strauss.nick@gmail.com).

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