Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do ...
Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Friday, July 29, 2011

High School and the "Great What Ifs"

High School ... how does anyone survive it!

I wasn't one of the in-crowd. I didn't date. I didn't go to prom. I wasn't part of any highly regarded club or student government. I wasn't college bound. I wasn't traditionally pretty or popular, I struggled academically, I wasn't stylish (money was an issue), my mom wouldn't let me wear make up until I was 16 or shave my legs until I was 18. I looked so much younger than everyone else, but in high school looking more mature was very important. I had to take public bus transportation with a transfer in the middle of the trip for my senior year (we had moved out of the county at the beginning of my senior year so I was sort of illegally attending the high school.)

It was a gigantic high school. There were about 1,000 students in my graduating class alone, and the other classes were just as large. It was easy to "get lost" in the mobs of students.

I know, I know.

From the perspective of approximately 50 years later these are not life-shattering things. But layered on top of a dysfunctional family life ... I remember it as a pretty heavy burden to bear.

In my Senior Year in High School things changed. You see, at that time I wanted to be an Actress! (figured ... I would be more interested in make believe than real life.) I was taking Drama classes in a high school with a regional reputation for exceptional quality theatrical productions. I was lucky. Today the school is a magnetic school for the performing arts. Goldie Hawn (Actress) and Connie Chung (News Anchor) were both graduates of that high school. Performance history runs very deep in that school.

In my Senior year I cheekily tried out for the Senior Class Play. This play was one of two major theatrical productions each year. That year the play was Our Town. I auditioned for the part of Emily, the female lead. Clearly, based on everything I said above, I had no chance of getting the part. I remember at try-outs I had a sinking sensation in my stomach. I watched all the beautiful, popular girls audition for the part of Emily. They all delivered their lines exactly the same - like they had discussed the exactly right way to do the part in their cliquey groups. Ironically I had planned to do exactly the same presentation in my audition. But in that moment changed my approach. I used different inflections, rhythm, pauses, blocking. I was going to be noticed!!!

A week later I walked up to the bulletin board outside the drama department to check the list of cast members. There was a large group of students clustered around trying to do the same thing. I had to squeeze between students to get close enough to read the cast list. And it took me probably a full 5 minutes for the message my eyes were reading to be recognized by my brain. My name was listed for the female lead! And once my mind accepted what was written, I don't think I would have believed it except for the congrads of other students around me as I stood there stunned.

I remember one thought that popped into my head at the time: "What have I done?" :-)

If I had known what the day had in store for me, I would have insisted on shaving my legs! :-)

And so, here are some grainy pictures from my yearbook of the performance. The first is me at the beginning of the play, alive and well and getting married.

And below is me dead. I look pretty good for dead, don't you think?
For those who don't know the play Our Town, the message of the play is to love your life, every minute of it. In this scene Emily has died and is with others who are also dead in the town grave yard. The town is gathered at her grave site. The dead behind me have over time become totally disinterested in the ways of the living. But Emily who is newly dead (you know that because I am wearing white.) :-) ... Emily can still remember how wonderful life is-was, and how sad that the living don't see that.

That play was the beginning of change for me. I started hanging around with the Drama in-crowd. Now I was "in" too. Most of the Drama crowd was heading to college. So I decided I wanted to go to college too (this would have been about December of my senior year). I was not prepared academically or financially to do this, and by today's standards deciding to go to college 6 months before graduation from high school is just not done ... but I wasn't getting hung up on the sniggly details. Life can just pass you by if you get tripped up by details.

I had one Year Book from high school - my senior year. We couldn't afford for me to have the others. The book was filled with well wishes from tons of students and teachers.

I think that momentary desire to stand out from the in-crowd in that audition changed the course of my life in a large way. But the questions I often ponder are the "what ifs".

What if ...
  • mom had not supported my desire to stay in my current high school for my senior year.
  • I hadn't auditioned for a play I had no chance of getting a part in.
  • I hadn't gotten ornery and decided to be "different" on purpose during my audition.
  • Mom wasn't willing to pick me up every school night after play practice at 9:30 pm for 3 months.
  • I hadn't spent time with college-bound students and changed my mind about going to college.
  • Mom hadn't (after picking herself off the floor) supported my wish to go to college and found the way to pay for it - because there were no scholarships for me, no family inheritances, no extra money just laying around. This had to have been tough for her.
All I can say is two things ...
  • I believe completely in the message of Our Town. Life is wonderful and we should enjoy every single minute.
  • and, Thanks mom!


  1. This story is so touching, beautiful, and even inspiring. "Life is wonderful and we should enjoy every single minute." Exactly!

  2. That was extremely interesting - full of info and questions of what if - thanks for the incite into your life.

  3. great memory. Wow. A lot of what-ifs.

    My husband is also a grad. from your high school. Not that he's famous or anything. :)

  4. I never knew this story! First, Our Town, is one of my favorite plays. And second, thanks to amazing mom support! I can't imagine having made it through High School and College without the support of my mom, emotional and financial.


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