It smelled older than 2000.
Major construction unearthed a two foot by two foot metal cube in a spot on campus that had long been rumored to contain a time capsule. No one knew when it had been put into the ground, but the rust and grit encrusting it suggested age.
We pulled it from the ground and a forklift brought it to the library, where we put it on display through the winter with hopes it might generate some discussion and prompt some of our alumni to remember days gone by. Then we found out that nobody remembered burying the thing.
So we asked everyone we could find. Some alumni remembered burying a time capsule in the mid 1970s. Others suggested the 80s. Someone thought early 90s. No one knew for sure.
At our annual faculty and staff reunion former teachers and past graduates looked at the box and made guesses. None could actually remember the metal cube going underground, but they all agreed that it looked old.
The day we finally opened it up the school gathered with expectation and a crowbar. Our metals teacher and some intrepid students loosened the bolts and pried open the top. It took some work, but finally the top opened and inside…
Inside we found newspapers, magazines, letters, and a reminder that if one is to put together a time capsule waterproofing is really important.
Looking through the contents that survived sixteen years in the ground, I thought about the differences between 2000 and today.
George Clooney looked younger.
Cassette tapes existed.
The students at San Dieguito at the turn of the millennium were still closer to their brethren of the 1980s than students of today. Terms like “smart phones” and “instagram” weren’t part of their lives. Few knew of groups like al-Quaeda, the Department of Homeland Security, or Maroon 5. Charles Shultz was still writing Peanuts.
On San Dieguito’s campus students still listened to Blink-182, skated down the San Dieguito ten step, and learned physics from George Stimson. In addition to Mr. Stimson, fourteen other teachers here in 2017 were at SDA in the year 2000. Yet from boom boxes to break dancing, the world of 2000 feels farther away than seventeen years. Should it be strange then that the time capsule looked the part?
Next month our current students will put their own time capsule into the earth not far from where the class of 2000 lowered theirs into the ground. What will the world look like years from now when students (perhaps not yet born) paw through the flotsam and jetsam of 2017? I assume George Clooney will still look good.
Time marches, here at San Dieguito with a bit of a skip in its step, and to try to freeze any moment in time is as foolish as it is tempting.
The memories that our students are creating are real, just as were those of students from the year 2000, or the 1970s, or the 1950s, or the 1930s, and I’m sure that if a principal twenty years from now sets about chronicling San Dieguito for its hundredth anniversary the results will be moving and concrete remembrances of a school filled with creativity and caring.
A time capsule captures something different, merely facts and objects. That photograph we pulled from the rusty metal box isn’t as clear as the memories from any of the students in the picture. The world that emerged from that rusted metal box, mildewed as it was, is less vibrant that any story a graduate might tell.
As we reflect on San Dieguito’s eighty years as a school, I invite us all to gather not news clippings but people’s stories. I encourage anyone interested in the history of our school to find a graduate, a teacher or former teacher, and ask them what it was like when…
San Dieguito is more than a place; it is a collection of people, a collection of memories, and a collection of stories. These carry more weight than wet newsprint.