Monday, May 7, 2012

Another Auld Lang Syne

It is nearing graduation time, and I have heard several students expressing anguish and sadness about leaving their college friends. As an old guy, I have little sympathy for their despondent complaints. They have no idea in today’s interconnected Facebook world of how difficult it was to say goodbye in the pre-Internet days. Graduation was truly bittersweet back then.

I can remember my college years (late ‘70s through early ‘80s), and the sadness that entailed with each graduation. In those days, the only way to keep in touch was by phone numbers (often through your parents’ number). Long distance phone calls were expensive—can you remember the excitement in the mid-‘80s when MCI first started advertising their lower cost long distance alternative? The days of watching the clock when calling a long distance friend (or the shock at a monthly bill when you made a few long distance calls without watching the clock) are pretty much a thing of the past. Heck, today lots of folks don’t even worry about long distance charges, because long distance calls are included in their billing format.

Another difference is that back then, even if you would decide to try making a long distance call to a friend, there were no answering machines or caller ID to let them know you had tried to reach them while they were out (at least the phone company—often referred to back then as Ma Bell—didn’t charge you for unanswered calls). Even if you had a current roommate in a shared apartment who took a message from a distant college friend who had tried to call you, there was disappointment that you missed the call that they had tried to make to you (knowing that now you would have to pay for the return call). Keeping in touch was hard to do in the old days, especially in the early stages of a career, when folks were often changing their address. Today, there is no need to worry about changing phone numbers if you move, because phone numbers are “portable” now.

Back then, we really were saying goodbye on graduation day. One had to be strong in those days. The incredible friendships we had built in the dorms, classrooms, and campuses were coming to an end, as we each took our separate and tentative steps into the wind that would carry us into adulthood and career. It didn’t take long to lose track of all but your very closest friends (your absolute “besties” or “BFFs” in today’s lingo).

On occasion during the decades following graduation, I would pass through the city of my alma mater, sometimes shopping at the mall or revisiting the campus, always looking for faces that might resemble an aged version of a college acquaintance. I can remember my excitement about ten years ago, when a brief stop at a large grocery store there resulted in a glimpse of someone who looked like a pretty girl I knew at least twenty years earlier at college. I discreetly maneuvered around the aisles of the store in the hopes of getting a better angle to determine if that face could actually be the woman I thought she was. I finally got up the courage to walk up and introduce myself, and even before I spoke, she recognized me as well, despite the decades that had passed. It was a moment similar to what Dan Fogleberg sang about in his 1980 ballad “Same Old Lang Syne,” as we stood there in the grocery store getting caught up on the past few decades. This was an example of the exceedingly rare reunions in the days before Facebook.

Fortunately, Facebook came along and now lots of folks from my generation are no longer dependent on chance meetings at a grocery store to find out how we are doing. Facebook may have been originally designed for undergrads to get to know each other, but it has evolved into a great way for those of us in older generations to reconnect. After departing as the annual graduating class diaspora which occurred on campuses everywhere each spring, we have finally found each other again, and it is wonderful. So don’t expect much pity from me about current graduates lamenting their departures—they have no idea what the older generations experienced.


I just returned from another alumni reunion weekend at the University of Charleston, and it was fantastic. Facebook has truly made a difference the past few years in getting folks from my era to attend. Those who make the effort to return to campus are rewarded with sore throats from all the talking, sore facial muscles from all the smiling, and aching sides from all the laughing. I love the way we love each other, whether or not we were “besties” or merely acquaintances; whether we dated or merely wanted to date.

It seems we all appreciate each other simply because we were contemporaries, and throughout life’s trials and tribulations, we have survived thus far. It isn’t important what we have accomplished—the important part is that we are together again. Age is catching up to us, but we can look at each other through our 18-22 year old eyes, and see us as we once were. Ponce de Leon’s “Fountain of Youth” turns out to be our own imprinted remembrances, and gathering us together in a group at our old campus brings a flood of good memories.

One of my nearest and dearest friends had a close coronary call this past year, but after a six-way bypass operation, he seems to be doing well. His experience made many of us realize how much we would have missed him, and why we need to take advantage of these alumni “get togethers” whenever we can—who knows how many more we have? I hope that those who have not joined us will attempt to do so in the future. Those who have done so will tell you it is a blast! A blast from the past! Just like Dan Fogelberg’s hit song:

“We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to time
Reliving in our eloquence
Another auld lang syne...”

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