Pathways to ’99

Written by Larisa Glenda Togonon

I attended my high school reunion a few days ago. It was a much hyped event, with all those Facebook announcements and all. As I counted the weeks and days leading up to it, images of Romy, Michelle and Martin Blank kept swirling in my head. Of David Cook, too, whose concert I would be ditching for my high school girlfriends (sorry, love).

Before that night, I thought of taking out my yearbook and memorizing the names and faces of suddenly forgotten classmates. Our yearbook — covered in blue (of course) with hand-drawn silver stars, quotes from our teachers, and wide-eyed faces frozen in time — doesn’t have all that “person most likely to succeed” or “most popular girl” shtick. Probably because we didn’t need those anyway. We already knew each other inside out, or at least we thought so. Anyhow, labeling ourselves seemed a bit childish, no? And we were wise women of the world, yes?

Yes, women. I went to an all-girls school, which made this reunion balloon with even more excitement and, should I say, trepidation. (Or was it dread?) I wondered who among us had the weirdest jobs, the oldest children, the most fun marriages and the most drastic makeovers. Who was still blue and purple and pink and white, in that unique color spectrum that only students in all-girl schools will understand. Who still thought of herself as my friend, and who won’t talk to me a decade after.

But what I wondered about the most was how much I had really changed since high school. I suddenly found myself, 10 years (10 years!!!) later — in my corporate clothes and black pumps, with lipstick on and an engagement ring around my finger — feeling exactly the way I did when I was still stick-thin and wearing enormous eyeglasses. In this strange woman’s body, I was a child again, awkward and self-conscious and confident, all at the same time.

Central to this whole suspended animation known as high school reunion was the sheer shock, disbelief even, that I have actually reached this far. And I never even noticed, until memories of a decade ago started to flood in and wash out all that I had become. Along with that were unnerving questions that I entertained, like, what will they think of my chosen career, how will I size up to the others, and will they even remember me?!

With all of that hanging over my borderline neurotic head, I walked carefully to the registration table, one warm Saturday at five past seven in the evening. Once there, well, I was blown away.

In five hours, I was yanked from the comfort zone of my adulthood and transported to the precarious cradle of my youth. And in those five hours, between semi-drunken laughter and nostalgia, halfway through vintage (read: pre-Y2K) videos and wide-angle DSLR shots, and as we spontaneously sang our graduation song “Pathways,” I finally stopped. Stopped. Wondering.

Because in those five hours, and in the following days, I realized:

1. Friendships formed in high school are almost always bound to last.

2. These friendships may not be the purest, but can certainly be the most honest.

3. There are those that do not last forever, however. Some may even end badly. So be prepared to face the consequences, like an awkward moment at your high school reunion. In such cases, you can choose between fight and flight. I choose flight (which may not always be the right path, by the way).

4. And some friendships … leave you hanging. For that, well, there’s always the next reunion.

5. Ten years later you realize that you have all changed, you are all different, and yet you are still the same. (This epiphany will throw you out of the loop for a few minutes.) This goes to show that the essence of your being never really goes away — no matter how much makeup you put on or how thin you become. It doesn’t matter if you are the president of the country or a bum. You can never hide who you really are from the people you met in puberty.

6. There are also friendships that you think you did not have, but actually had. What a nice surprise!

7. You were unstoppable and fearless then, so why are you pausing now? If, on the other hand, you were afraid, looking back on those years should give you the courage to be brazen. Nothing beats a sorry past more than a fantabulous present!

8. In short, whatever we experienced in high school figures largely in who we are today. There’s no use denying this. Instead, think: those four years have the potential to bring out the absolute best in you. The BEST, if you really wanted. So don’t waste them, and don’t waste the next 10 years feeling bad for yourself. Live up to the promise, now.

9. We must cherish the lessons, including the silly ones. Also, cherish the people who taught them — teachers, classmates, friends, even the principal. Respect your school and uplift it through your actions. You are and will always be a reflection of it.

10. No one has a perfect memory. My brain remembers half of what happened 10 years ago, and will probably remember even less in the next 10 years. But, oddly, that disability does not take away the feeling. The space in my heart carved especially for high school remains, and will remain unchanged.

I walked away from my high school for the second time that night. But I took home with me so much more than I thought I would, maybe even more than I did the first time. These realizations, I say to both my 26-year-old present self and the 16-year-old kid I once was, that girl who still lives inside me and is constantly telling me where to go.

I share these thoughts with all those who will be taking a trip down high school lane and are stressing about what to wear (no one cares, you will all be beautiful). Most of all, I share them with my batchmates, so that we will forever remember who we are and who we can be, simply because we have each other.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once defined “ubuntu” as the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. A person is a person through other persons.

I am who I am now because of them, my batchmates. It’s that simple. I may see them again tomorrow, or in another 10 years, or perhaps never again, but I will walk “through the pathways of my life” knowing we are entwined — all 315 of us — and we are better because of it.

Goodbye for now, Kulasas of ’99. ’Til our paths cross again.

[Larisa Glenda Togonon, 26, graduated from St. Scholastica’s College-Manila in 1999, and earned her bachelor’s degree in Area Studies at the University of the Philippines Manila, where she edited The Manila Collegian. She also has an MA in Urban and Regional Planning. This article is published in today’s issue of one of our favorite newspapers, the Philippine Daily Inquirer.]


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