The Company We Keep

David tells people I went to a “big high school.”

This is a matter of perspective, of course. His high school class had just under 100 people and mine had just over 400. Multiply that by four grades and you get an idea of our schools. His school was in a small town in Wyoming and served students bused in from neighboring towns and communities; some of his classmates traveled more than an hour to school. Mine was one of three in the school district, in a metropolitan area with a slew of school districts. All of my classmates lived within a few miles of the school.

I went to college with kids who came from graduating classes of over 1,000, so I know my school was not big, in the grand scheme.

To David’s family and hometown acquaintances, though, I grew up in the big city and went to a large school, with all of the attendant vice, crime and trouble that implies to certain small town folk. Yet, when we compare stories, it was David’s classmates that got into all the trouble. Granted, I was a goody two-shoes and hit high school in the early 80s compared to David’s mid-70s. Still, I think the small town life drove them to more shenanigans than I ever heard about in my cohort.

My mom bought our house for the school district. It was supposed to be one of the best in the country and all three of my schools, elementary, middle and high, were brand new. David’s education was what the town offered. The school was hardly any kind of magnet.

We went to David’s 30th class reunion not long ago and he vows never to go to another. Many of his friends had become their parents, living the same lives, moving from one blue collar job to another. He was depressed for days afterward. I was the big-city girlfriend — only a couple of people wanted to talk to me.

I’ve been reconnecting with my classmates on Facebook. And they’re all doing such interesting things. Here’s the latest, a lovely music video by Kathryn Mostow. She’s really good.

It makes me wonder — was the school really that much better? Was it the city and all the stimulation that it has to offer? Perhaps we were in a rarified environment, so that our school drew kids from the kinds of parents able to buy houses in those neighborhoods where David’s school pulled in everyone from that section of a sparsely populated and rural state.

I’m not supposed to talk about these things, I know. I’m supposed to value the beauty of the simple life David’s cohorts have chosen. We all choose what is valuable about our own lives. And yet, one friend is paying the equivalent of college tuition to give her son and daughter a private school education, to give them every advantage. Private schools wouldn’t exist if people didn’t believe the quality of education makes a difference.

You don’t have to have it, a great education, to raise yourself up. David has done a great deal with his life and will do more. Of course, he also reads all the time. Studying to improve himself. Like my grandfather, the farm boy who got his education at the public library.

I suppose some people are handed things that others have to fight for.