Our 20th High School Class Reunion: Fort Payne Wildcats Class of 1999

 

We have arrived.

In an age of reboots, sequels, and of course, reunions, the timing was perfect for the Fort Payne High School Class of 1999 to have our 20th reunion!

Back in May of 1999, during the week of our high school graduation, we had our class picnic in our city park. Most of us were just 18 years old and didn’t really know, and couldn’t know, what we wanted to do with our lives.

We hadn’t yet figured out what we were really good at, or bad at, or how we would even earn a living.

But during the course of two decades, it sort of forced us to figure out who we were going to be. At now that we are all pushing 40, our lives are, for the most part, figured out.

If graduating high school was like putting the car in reverse, backing it out of the garage, putting it into first, and determining which of the endless roads we were supposed to start driving down…

Then making it to our 20th high school reunion is like having the car in cruise control.

Granted, for most of us, the road we took was not a straight and easy one. That road had many surprising turns. Often that road turned us right back around in the same direction we had already come from.

But by now, we are ultimately settled in for the rest of the ride. We’re not trying to figure out who we are anymore.

We know now.

So for this class reunion in particular, it was especially a milestone. For the first time, we were catching up with the grown up doppelganger versions of each other.

I also realized by attending my 20th high school reunion, that I was fortunate to grow up with a particularly special group of people, at a special time, in a special place.

We were born in 1980 and 1981; during the start of our town’s economic boom, as Fort Payne, Alabama became “The Official Sock Capital of the World”; thanks to our town’s massive hosiery production.

Not to mention, the country group Alabama had just become living legends… and they just happen to be from our little town, located in the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains.

It was magical time and place to grow up. We are a close group of people.

Our class reunions are a really big deal to us and I am confident they always will be.

-Nick Shell

This is the 1st Year Millennials Will Start Having Their 20th High School Class Reunions: Starting with the Class of 1999, in 2019

There are some people who just don’t care anything about going to their high school reunions.

They are the ones who will say, “I spent a dozen years with those people and I didn’t like them then, so what makes you think I would want to go hang out with them now? If I was really that curious what they are up to, I would just look them up on Facebook!”

Clearly, I am not one of those people. No, instead, just call me Mr. High School Class Reunion!

For me, going to my high school class reunions is like repeating the final scene of the final episode of Lost… every 5 years of my life.

What is really special about my own upcoming 20th High School Reunion this July is that we just happen to be the first official Millennial class to experience this.

Most sources agree that Millennials were born between 1981 and 1997. I was born on April 20th, 1981; so I will be turning 38 in a few weeks.

If the Millennial generation were siblings, then those of us who graduated high school in 1999 would be the firstborn children.

This is history in the making.

Back in 1988, when I turned 7, I had a very memorable birthday party. My dad had just cut down a tree in our backyard, so the main entertainment was being able to climb the fallen tree. And coincidentally, I just happened to be wearing a “Class of ’99” t-shirt on my birthday.

Fortunately, my mom did a great job of taking several pictures to capture the magic of that day.

Gary Schrader, Russell McElhaney, Will Stephens, Shane Burt (along with his sister and mom), Tabatha Thomas, Haley Rogers and her sister Ashley, and my own sister Dana were all there that day; whether they remember it now or not… and whether they have ever seen these pictures before either!

I am confident that my upcoming 20th High School Class Reunion will be a highlight of 2019.

Yes, just call me Mr. High School Class Reunion.

It’s that big of a deal to me!

The Generation X and Generation Y Hybrid: For People Turning 30 This Year

Here’s to the Class of 1999 (as well as for anyone else close enough in age to relate this).

We were born between the fall of 1980 and the summer of 1981; currently the ones turning 30 within the next year.  It was us who remember having vinyl records in our house during our early Elementary School days, but by the time we got to Junior High we learned the cool kids were getting CD players.  We remember how in the 3rd grade when The Simpsons came out, our parents hesitated to let us watch it, and now we wonder in amazement that they’re still making new episodes of it, and how tame and polite the show seems now compared next to Family Guy.

During our high school days, we came home and fell asleep to a Saved by the Bell marathon until dinner was ready.  We clearly remember the horrific Columbine shooting in Colorado happening just a few weeks before our high school graduation.  (The event actually happened on my 18th birthday.)

 

Yes, we remember Teddy Ruxpin and slap bracelets.  We remember when The Ren & Stimpy Show was the coolest show ever.

We are part of Generation X, barely: The last year of Generation X ended in 1981.  That means the new generation, Generation Y, began in 1982, just 7 full months after I was born.  After a motivation speaker at work a few weeks ago gave characteristics of each generation, I confirmed my belief that I’m not a typical Generation X guy; and if anything, I’m more Generation Y.  The caricatured characteristics of the generations (below) are from notes I took while listening to the speaker that day, Dan Baker:

Generation X: 1961-1981

33% of the work force, first generation to get divorced, “latch-key kids”, high-tech, loner, needs to be happy, reward-motivated, blames everyone else for their problems, high work ethic, works the bureaucracy, cold-blooded practical

Generation Y (Millennial): 1982-2001

20% of the work force, lacks people skills, no sense of authority, no sense of boundaries, not intimidated by threats, has no prejudice, not motivated by money, loves to be mentored, learns by mistakes, learns quickly, knows how to trick the system, “so what?” generation, wants to feel special, wants someone to care about them, needs to “be built”, bad listener, good watcher, needs encouragement, not good at having real friendships- partly because they rely so heavily on social networks (texting, facebook, etc.)

I definitely relate with a few Generation X characteristics: I’ve always born more of a loner and am content being that way.  I need to be happy.  I know how to work the bureaucracy.  And because I’m not a black-and-white, cut-and-dry person, I am definitely cold-blooded practical.

But as a whole, more Generation Y traits jumped out at me: I am not intimidated by threats.  I am as little prejudice as I know to be humanly possible.  I am definitely not motivated by money (I have been preached to my whole life that money isn’t everything and that it doesn’t make people happy, and I believe it).  I do love to be mentored, just as I love to mentor.  I totally know how to trick the system; it’s one of my specialties- taking a machete to red tape.  I’m not so good of a good listener, but I’m always watching, even when you don’t want me to.  And I need encouragement.

I “work the bureaucracy” be being faithful and loyal to people for the long run (Gen. X), but I’m not faithful or loyal to the system because I “know how to trick the system” (Gen. Y).  I am “cold-blooded practical” (Gen. X) about all my decisions and opinions, yet because I am motivated by encouragement and want to feel special (Gen. Y), I am not being practical because I am letting my “feelings” control me and allowing others’ opinions of my achievements to become part of the deciding factor of whether or not I am successful in what I do.

So I predict that most other people born around 1981 are in this similar situation where they don’t identify fully with either generation, but instead with elements of both.  And I’m sure the hybrid traits I have adopted are not necessarily the same ones as other people born in 1981.  But I do find it pretty interesting how my way of thinking and outlook on life resemble specific X and Y traits.

So now you know.  It’s official.  You’re Generation X, but there’s a good chance you act and think more like Generation Y.  We’re the in-betweens.  And I think that makes us feel special; which for our generation, is pretty dang important.

Party Like It’s 1999: My Ten Year Class Reunion (Fort Payne, AL)


Last week as I mentioned to people here in Nashville that my 10 Year High School Reunion was coming up on Saturday, I was surprised to hear more than a few respond with, “Well I’m not going to mine. Everybody I want to see or talk to from high school, I already do. Most of those people I didn’t like then, and so I know I won’t like ‘em now.” Not one tiny part of me can relate to that statement.

On the same token, there have been times when I have hyped up an upcoming event in my mind for weeks or months, only to find my high expectations were not met. Again, this was not at all the case.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the Fort Payne Class of ’99 is a special group of people. Yes, I am being bias.

If the definition of a true friend is someone you can be apart from for years and the next time you see them, you can just pick up where you left off last time, then I have more friends than I realized. Because that was the case with everyone that was there.

I saw how warmly my wife was accepted by everyone there. (It actually reminded me of when I introduced her to my family a few years ago.) How often an official introduction wasn’t even necessary. Just straight to conversation like an old friend. That sort of instant familiarity with a large group of strangers is rare.

Ten years can definitely change people in a way I hadn’t considered; by bringing them to a more similar place in life than they were in before. Kristin Bailey Gardner works in journalism, whereas I am jealous that she is. Kim Thomas Clowers married my 2nd cousin, meaning we’re related now related and see each other at family reunions. And the should-be action movie star Morten Maaegard, the foreign exchange student from Denmark our senior year, was in the same parts of Thailand as I was in 2004. (He actually flew in from Europe for our class reunion- that is impressive.)

When an event this big goes so right, I have to take a look at why. Aside from a bunch of cool 28 year-olds all truly wanting to be there, a lot of it had to do with the planning. Tabitha Thomas Greenwood found and followed a formula that was flawless. First, during the day, we met at the new city park. That was a way that those with children could bring them and have something for them to do as the adults caught up on life.

Then that night just us adults met at an old yet restored hotel and restaurant in the crafty/artsy neighboring town of Mentone. Our senior yearbook was placed on a table along with a memorial of the four we’ve lost since graduation: Grant Dobbs, Derek Hood, Brooke Craig, and Joey Kean.

It was like a big house where after dinner we could just walk around and hang out as the band played. That was the ideal casual environment that kept everyone comfortable and in good spirits.

I have heard of class reunions where people had to pay $100 just to get in. Ours was affordable, practical, fun, and perfectly planned. We could have met in the Santa Fe room at Western Sizzlin’ (or The Sizzler as it’s known in the rest of the country). But no, the Fort Payne class of ’99 does things right. We knew not to play around with something as monumental as our one and only 10 year reunion.

There definitely is a dream-like quality about seeing so many old friends again after so long. Like a blurry Vaseline-on-the-camera-lens kind of feel. And because so many truly looked the exact same as they did in high school, it was kinda like a dream where we all just appeared in the same place and the only thing that really changed was the time in between the last time we were all together.

Eleven year reunion, anyone?