A few months ago I set out to capture some of the stories from across San Dieguito’s eight decades. Talking with graduates from as far back as 1940, I heard marvelous tales of a school filled with youthful energy, creative spirit, and a truly magical history of closeness and caring. I also heard stories that had nothing to do with campus life, remembrances of what happened next to the alumni, stories of life after high school.
These stories of life after San Dieguito were moving and just as real as what I heard about the graduates’ high school years. They were stories about love and loss, stumbling early adulthood, purposeful middle age, and, in some cases, parenthood and retirement.
Hearing Norm describe falling in love with a beautiful soprano from Nebraska, of taking her out five nights in seven days and then asking her to marry her at the end of the week (to which she replied: “If you hadn’t asked me, I was going to ask you!”) reminded me of the reality of romance. Listening as he described their fifty-four years of marriage put all his youthful shenanigans in perspective. Here was a man who had fun in high school and lived an adult life just as rich.
Gage talked about his ten year reunion and the connections he keeps with classmates, including the woman he went to college with who as a girl starred in a play at San Dieguito and was so “intriguingly good” that he began a life of performance, writing, and directing that still helps to define him today.
Tak’s description of a prejudiced and Kafkaesque Naval recruiting center showed midcentury racism at its most diabolical and disheartening, and yet his balanced demeanor as he recounted the labyrinthian process of the Navy denying him entry because of his ethnicity, and his unflagging positive attitude toward his life and his community, showed the wisdom he as gained over 89 years of life. Tak is a truly remarkable man, defined not by the injustice he has faced, but by the grace he brought, and brings, to all he encounters.
Whether it was Mary talking about growing up in Encinitas in the 1920s or Thelma and Len describing what it was like in the 1960s, all of these stories, not exactly San Dieguito stories, but human stories, form the historical and multifaceted world of which we are all a part.
Every day we pass people on the street, wait in lines with people at the grocery store, and encounter people whose stories are just as moving and whose experiences are just as profound as those Mustang alumni I have had the pleasure to meet.
The experience of talking with Mary and Tak, Gimpy and Gage, Jennifer, Monica, Len and Thelma, and so many others has taught me to appreciate the heroism and humor, the strength and soul that exist in every person. Their stories, both from high school and from life, illustrate the complexity, joy, sorrow, and humanity of our world.
These amazing individuals, so kind in sharing their memories, have inspired me and might, I hope, inspire a few people reading along to take the time to sit down with a parent or a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a son, or a daughter and ask them about their story.
That story doesn’t have to be about our school, but like this San Dieguito experiment it may inspire something astounding.