I had the privilege of attending a reunion of Norfolk Academy alums at the San Francisco home of Drew McKnight ’96 several weeks ago. A number of folks from the Development team went, including the heroic Ruth Payne Acra ’86, who traveled cross-country with a newly broken foot courtesy of the recent snowstorm. Herb Soles and I had travelled out to the Bay area separately several days earlier, which, if you remember, was at the height of the historic rain/wind event that caused severe flooding in Sonoma County and points west. My plane made it through the gales because we had a medical emergency on board and were put at the head of the line waiting for the one available runway. Herb was not so lucky. His flight was forced to put down in San Jose to refuel and finally made it to San Francisco four hours late. I remember thinking as we pulled into our hotel at what was 3:30 a.m. our time that this reunion had better be worth it.
For two hours or so I was able to catch up with 25 or 30 folks, some of whom I’d seen recently but most of whom I had not seen in years, maybe decades. Drew and his wife Amy put on a wonderful affair, catered with an eye to California twists on traditional Southern fare. His house has an impressive view of San Francisco Bay – the Golden Gate Bridge is beautifully framed by his living room window.
But it was not the food or the view that drew this collection of folks, stretching from Bob Nusbaum ’66 to Bucky Henry ’12 in age, to town on a rainy Thursday. It was certainly not the presence of any one of us from the Development team. And it was something more complicated and important than just reliving the good old days.
For one thing, as a fellow who grew up with four channels on the television, single 45 rpm rock and roll music records and rotary dial phones, I constantly underestimate the influence of social media. Two or three folks who indicated they would attend could not, which was disappointing to me personally but not worrisome. Within seconds we could discover that this one’s child had taken ill or that one was called back to work on an emergency. I guess we’ll just have to do another reunion soon.
Back to the subject of the good old days, to my surprise I spent the overwhelming percentage of my conversations on the present lives of these alums and the future life of their high school. It was uncommonly pleasant to do so. As I look back on it, it felt like the 80’s cinema classic The Big Chill in reverse. For those of you too frighteningly young to know the movie, it is the story of a reunion of a group of University of Michigan grads from the hippie 60’s who have discovered that life as a post-college adult is difficult and grubby and filled with such delights as difficult marriages and professional failure. For the group on Divisadero Street that night, at least, life as a grown-up is just the opposite.
I have written at some length about the nostalgia and the desire for recapturing a lost childhood that sustains the D.A. Taylor Foundation and those who still grieve for him, and I stand by that assertion. But what I saw last Thursday (and the reunion group included at least four members of the Foundation) was a gathering of young men and women who are confident, independent, and optimistic. I won’t list any particular individual by name for fear of implicit omission of another, but exchange after exchange left the impression of success. Certainly each of us defines that word differently, so the fellow working for Teach for America seemed equally fulfilled as the woman working as an interior designer as was the Assistant City Attorney for San Francisco. But no one, really, wanted to focus on that famous eighth grade moment or even the big basketball win junior year over a rival school. The here and now was just fine for everyone.
It’s probably self-indulgence, but it would be nice to think that their days at Norfolk Academy had something to do with their present situations in the City by the Bay. Dare we here on Wesleyan Drive give ourselves credit, if only a little, for these wonderful people’s taking on the world in such powerful strides?
I may not have left my heart in San Francisco, but on a cold and raw Thursday night there it grew a little bit fuller.