My high school no longer exists. At one time, there were two Claymont High Schools; one that still exists in Ohio, and mine, which no longer does, in Claymont, in the State of Delaware.
The Claymont School District in Delaware started with a small stone schoolhouse in 1805, which still stands at the center of town (http://www.claymontstoneschool.org), and grew through the 1970’s with a kindergarten building, four community elementary schools that feed into a middle school (former high school building) then on to the more modern high school next door. This school system was the glue for the community that had no, nor needed, any government. There was a superintendant, 6 principals, and many great teachers. From that system, community bonds were forged stronger because individual parents and students were its lifeblood. The superintendant and his staff worked with the state on funding and other issues, but the community gave it life. It was predominantly blue-collar middle class families. We cared nothing about a family’s race or religion. If they lived in Claymont, Delaware, they were welcomed.
That all came apart when a small band of socialist judges and cowardly legislators decided that we unintelligent, unwashed, but independent Claymonters did not know what was good for us. They despised our independence, and devised a system of shipping children at different grade levels to different schools in the county outside of the community, and doing the same by bussing children outside of Claymont into our school system, affecting their communities as well as ours. The result was the destruction of the Claymont school system as well as schools in Wilmington. Socialism is, after all, about the destruction of individual choice by the will of a centralized and corrupt government all in the desire to provide a bastardized illusion of fairness rather than the one we had based on individual desire and achievement. Because of its failure, this social experiment was eventually abandoned in the 1990’s, but the damage was done.
But something survived.
On November 27, 2010, I attended my 30th year reunion as part of the Claymont High School Class of 1980. My class has been meeting for reunions every five years since graduation with a picnic in September on the years ending in “5” and a formal dinner banquet every 10 years. This year’s banquet was at a place called the Blue Ball Barn located north of the city of Wilmington. As a child and teen, I only saw this place as a dilapidated relic of a once magnificent structure built by Alfred I. duPont. It was recently renovated to its former glory, its past neglect erased. What an appropriate place to hold a Claymont school reunion. My class reunion in this restored building steeped in Delaware history was one that made me feel rejuvenated.
I found friends that I talked with five years ago at the last reunion picnic, friends whose lives are occasionally revealed on Facebook, and friends that I have not seen since graduation. I am drawn close to a few who I attended class with since Kindergarten; people like my friends Tommy, and Susana, and Vince. When you know someone since the age of five and are in every elementary school class with them, then graduate high school with them, they are in some ways like a family. There are siblings that go decades without seeing one another. I am lucky to know my kindergarten family every five years. There are also those many friends that came together in middle school where all the elementary schools’ children were unified. I share with these people all the emotions of growing up as a pre-teen through the teen years. The shared memories, events, holidays, and even loves gained and lost. I even met, after 30 years, Sue, the girl who was the subject of my first kiss. I remember how bad I was at it, and thus used the remaining high school years to get in more practice. One of our teachers – the one most influential in my success, Mr. Allen Ruth, was there as well along with his wife. Like any class, we had our cliques, but there was a lot of cross pollination of groups because of people like Allen who used art, music, drama, and education in general as a unifier. There is Mary who lives on the same road where we both grew up. She is and has been the photographer and recorder of alumni events. She is, in fact, the family historian for my class. Along with Mary were other elected leaders of our senior class, Jennie, and Sheila, who, along with many others, keep us unified.
In the end, my classmates and I reveled in our acceptance of who we were then, and who we have become. We shared our successes and failures, but all with the understanding that we are on the same path from pretty much the same starting line. For those that could not make this event because of other commitments, we spoke highly of them, and remembered them in our conversations of the past and mentioned that we hoped to see them soon, or at least at the next reunion. We all gathered near a display board that over time acquires more pictures of other classmates where we witnessed with solemn remembrance, our friends who have passed, all tragically to us survivors, as any death before us seems too young.
It was at the end of the night as hugs, handshakes, and promises of reconnecting were made, that I realized the depth of my wealth. It is nothing that can be measured by income or savings, but by the depth of feeling I had for this wonderful extended family. They were diverse in many ways in race, religion, income, and lifestyle, but were all unified in our common celebration of being with each other just one more time; that we were once young and in many ways, still so. We all came from the same place, separated to create our own lives, and yet eventually came together again like a great human slinky.
Thank you to all my classmates from kindergarten to those who joined, and were welcomed into Claymont High School later in your teen years, regardless of how or why. If I measured my memories and connections to you in monetary terms, I would be a billionaire. Fortunately, wealth can be derived from things more important than money.