“You are not going out with that boy unless his parents are driving and that's that. I'm not just Spitting Grits here, young lady!”

. . . My father, John Thomas Cravey, USAF, to me in 1956.

Peer Pressure Becomes You: My Thank You Note



In a recent Time magazine article about high school experiences, Annie Murphy Paul quoted Kurt Vonnegut’s retelling what a classmate said about life:
“You all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with. . .You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school.”

I laughed out loud, because I had just gotten back from my 50th high school reunion.

At Anchorage High School, where I graduated in 1961, I had the English teacher whose reputation preceded him, Mr. Crouch, Wendell Crouch, and I’m thankful I had him. He made us write a lot, and he graded it all. I walked softly and did what he assigned.

One paper I kept for decades, but I can’t find it now. In a lapse, I cleaned up, and I think I finally threw it away. I wish I could remember his wry comments on it, but I think I’ve repressed it. Before I admit what I’m going to reveal about that paper, let me say that because of Mr. Crouch, I placed in a high school poetry contest. I re-read the poem, and believe me, it’s abysmal. High schoolers are, among a lot of things, pretty maudlin, silly creatures. I’m not reprinting it.

The paper I wrote was on friendship; the assignment may have been to write on Aristotle’s ideas about friendship. In any case, that was the angle I took, even though I can’t remember the whole title.
But do I ever remember the first part of the title.

It went, “Fiendship: . . .” I don’t remember the words following the colon. And let me admit here that not once did I ever type the word as anything else but “fiendship.” It was NOT a Freudian slip, only bad, consistent typos, over and over and over.

Unsurprisingly Aristotle has a lot to say about friendship, but most of it now seems very high-minded; his philosophical musings, however, explain why “Fiendship” wasn’t a Freudian slip. A nice, quotable, thing he says in Nicomachaen Ethics asserts that it is necessary for us to have friends, “for without friends no one would choose to live. . . .” He then says, “. . . we praise those who love their friends, and it is thought to be a fine thing to have many friends. . . .”

Yes, I was very lucky to have had a lot of friends – not fiends – in high school. And, no, I don’t sit around reading Aristotle.

Mystery Solved
During the two-year run-up to the June 17, 2011, 50th Reunion, I worked electronically, -- as did others -- with committee members living in Anchorage and cities across the U.S. Along the way I re-friended some classmates, got re-acquainted with classmates I had known less well, and made new friends with others I had not known. I cruised up the Inside Passage with classmates who had been good friends in high school but whom I had not seen in decades, as well as with little- or not-known classmates.

Why was it so easy to love reconnecting with these long-ago classmates? We hugged, kissed, laughed, and made toasts together; all the while I wondered if they really recognized me. How could they? I didn’t recognize myself.


Toasting ourselves on the cruise ship



That question kept niggling at my mind. What’s the connection with classmates? What is this lure reunions have, so strong that going to them has created this huge business in America?

The answer stared me in my wrinkled face, the one I hardly knew in the mirror: “Hey, self, it’s the FRIENDS, the friendships, stupid.”

But I kept wondering: What made those friendships so strong, so meaningful? Then I remembered a book I had read when I was searching for some explanations for my daughter’s hideous drug addictions that so affected mine and my family’s lives. I had pulled it off the shelf again when our granddaughter, our daughter’s child, became ours to love and raise and I needed information on child development.
I grabbed it again after the reunion: Judith Rich Harris’s The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do.

In it she very convincingly argues her theory: “that children [elementary and junior high ages] identify with a group consisting of their peers, that they tailor their behavior to the norms of their group, and that groups contrast themselves with other groups and adopt different norms.”

Then, BINGO, in high school, as adolescents, we put all we’ve learned from our little peers to use with our big peers. This is how and when teenagers become themselves, who they are and will be. For good or ill, like it or not.

Your peers, your friends, are your biggest influence; they help form who you are then and become later.

The Way We Were is Now

Her theory certainly explains “peer pressure.” It only follows that it’s wanting to do and to behave and to dress and to think and to feel in ways that are meaningful to and help define your group.

Were we different or unusual? As the AHS Senior Class of 1961, probably. We were a huge, diverse group: children of native-born or first generation Alaskans, of U.S. Air Force or U.S. Army personnel, of civilians working with the military, or of adventurers, entrepreneurs, and fortune-seekers; children of the Cold War living with the very real threat of nuclear attack. The DEW Line (Defense Early Warning system of radars), which was the first line of defense against the Soviet threat, drew many families to the state. Most classmates watched Alaska become the 49th state and perhaps even watched President Dwight D. Eisenhower doff his hat to the crowds at the celebratory parade down 4th Avenue.

This class marked the transition from the comfort of the 1950s to the upheavals to come in the 1960s. We represented the promise of the future for Anchorage and a new state and what each would become. Then we scattered to places all over the globe.


4th Ave. downtown Anchorage, then and now

Unusual or different as individuals? Maybe, maybe not. The point is, we were our very own peer group; together we tried ourselves on to see who we were; we needed to bounce ourselves off each other – our hair, our shoes, our personalities – to grow up. We needed each other during that critical time.

And so, I thank my AHS Senior Class of ’61 classmates, all of them. I thank my close friends, my re-friends, my new friends, and those I haven’t seen since then – all those I shared that time, the 20th reunion, the 30th reunion, and the 50th reunion with. Thank you. Thank you.

Commence
The Time article’s author said she was flabbergasted when her high school principal invited her to give a recent commencement address to graduating seniors. I don’t think she had a great time back then.
Amazingly, our 1961 AHS principal, Mr. Joe Montgomery, was able, at 93, to attend our reunion’s sock hop. As he spoke to us from his chair, we all felt how special a moment it was.

AHS 1961 principal Mr. Joe Montgomery, at the 50th Reunion Sock Hop

If Mr. Montgomery were to call and ask me to address a commencement, here’s what I would say to the grads:
“Real life is high school. Don’t be hangin’ around with no un-fun, un-interesting group. There’s too much at stake, like your identity. And wanting to come back to your 50th reunion. Now, throw your caps high, get outta your robes, and get outta here. Thank you.”
Thank you, AHS Senior Class of ’61.

KTVA CBS channel 11 in Anchorage reported on the reunion. View the spot from here; click on the video.

Also on that page is an article I placed in Alaska Airlines Magazine after the AHS Class of ‘61 20th Reunion.

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