A High School Graduate

A portion of this was my column this weekend. I added some less-palatable bits to this entry.

This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.
This is Jena Owrey during a football game in September 1980. She was always sweet to me, and we remained friends on social media for a long time, but she has now disappeared. Also of note: compare how skinny the football players look compared to current players.

As I cover graduations this year, as I do every year, I think of when I walked the same walk.

I graduated from Lawton’s Eisenhower High School on May 31, 1981. If you subtract, yes, that is 40 years ago. Wow.

For some people, high school is a cherished part of their lives, and while I have some great memories from that time, I have to say that I didn’t remain connected to very many people from my graduating class, which, at about 640, was quite large compared to the graduations I cover in the Ada area.

On the day I graduated from high school, President Ronald Reagan was still recovering from an assassination attempt. I didn’t own a computer. Cell phones weren’t a thing yet. MTV had not yet been launched. The first space shuttle had just launched. CDC scientists reported the first five observed cases of AIDS.

It was, as they say, a different time.

I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.
I made this image of Eisenhower High School in Lawton, Oklahoma in 2011, but it looked exactly like this in 1981.

From my perspective as a photographer, I can tell you that “different time” doesn’t begin to describe how much imaging has changed since that warm day in May 1981.
The 1980s saw a lot of important growth in photographic film. In black-and-white, Kodak’s Tri-X ruled at the start of that decade, but by 1987, Kodak reinvented black-and-white with this T-Max films, including T-Max P3200, which changed my world as a news photographer. In color, we saw 400-speed and 800-speed films go from exotic high-sensitivity film with sharpness-robbing grain to the films we reached for every day.

Photographing graduations themselves has changed tremendously as well. On the day I graduated, my parents might have shot five frames of my friends and me, and me in the unflattering powder blue cap and gown. As I walked across the stage, the photographer made exactly one direct-flash shot of me receiving my diploma.
Today’s world of digital imaging means a senior might be photographed hundreds of times at every event, including their walk across the stage.

To me, though, that photo of me isn’t particularly meaningful. Sure, it’s a moment in my life, but it is emotionless and unengaging. I have tried, as years have gone by, to make my photojournalistic efforts at covering graduations more emotional, more engaging, more memorable.

On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.
On this day I started the process of realizing how little I liked the people who attended school with me.

Here is the part I redacted: my posse in high school and I haven’t spoken a word to each other in decades. Part of that is because I was so hard to get along with, but a bigger part of it is that I went to high school with a bunch of turds.

I talked about this at greater length in an entry called We Were Lines on a Map (link.)

That's me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, "You look about eight." I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don't know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey "Chip" Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren't a good fit.
That’s me on the left. When Abby saw this, she said, “You look about eight.” I was 17, but about as mature as an eight year old. The other people in this image are Christy Parker, who I don’t know, Allen Biehl, Jeff Glenn, and Carey “Chip” Johnson. I recognize now that I should have been keeping different company. No criticism of them is intended. We just weren’t a good fit.

In 2001, I attended a high school reunion, mostly just to see one girl, and was very disappointed by who these people had become. I don’t expect to attend another one.

It’s pretty clear also that many of them are contemptuous of me as well, since they refuse to add me to their friends list on social media.

Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.
Here is another frames of my friends and me, acting like jackasses because we thought it made us look clever.

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