John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


High School Reunion

Posted on July 22, 2012
Who knew that the class of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, circa 1982, would turn out to be such a wonderful case study for an amateur sociologist like me?

H-F was a pretty unique place to go to high-school in the early 1980’s.  It had a cadre of exceptional teachers, a diverse student population, and an almost perfect balance between geeks, jocks, burn-outs, thesbians, and minorities to make it a true Americana-version of a melting pot.

Situated in South Suburbs of Chicago, H-F regularly vied for top academic honors with more prestigious North Suburban schools like New Trier.  But unlike that fancy pants high school, H-F had more of a blue-collar sensibility.

Thirty years later, Homewood-Flossmoor is still kicking.  And like the school, most of the graduates from the class of '82 are still kicking.

Reunions, by their very nature, are tension-filled.   Remembering names, stories, slights and grudges, or just plain remembering is not always easy at reunion number 30.    There is always a slight re-ordering of the pecking order in life.  The popular kids 30 years ago are not necessarily the successful ones today.  But during a reunion, the old ways are reborn.  The popular kids become popular again, if only for a night.

Three decades ago, about 770 kids graduated from H-F, as if from a starting line, ready to sprint through life.  Some were eager to get started, others would hang back, waiting for life to come to them.  Some went to college, others went to work, and still others never went anywhere, lost souls.   Some had all the breaks and became very successful.  Others could never catch a break and never got out of the starting gate.

Facebook transformed this reunion.  In fact, it wouldn’t have happened without a Facebook movement, led by organizer Larry Farkos, (who ironically, couldn’t make the event he planned because of a faulty gall bladder).  Because of the wonders of Facebook, many of my classmates have had the opportunity to reconnect with me through my blog, and it was fun to hear what they had to say about the state of the their world.

I talked at length with a couple of doctors in the class.  They were concerned (maybe panicked is a better word) about Obamacare.  I promised them I would lead the charge to repeal it (wink, wink, nod, nod).

I got into a spirited discussion with a couple of high school teachers.  We had been going back and forth on the value of teacher’s unions.  They see the value and I don’t.  But they convinced me that until parents are held more responsible for the actions of their children and until teachers are given more power to protect themselves from the vicissitudes of administrators who can be capricious and out of touch, the union plays an important role.  It is awfully hard to teach students science when gang-bangers are conducting drug deals in the classroom.

I talked to several friends who were involved in finance.  They had a grim view of Obama, Bernanke, Congress and Washington in general.  They had warm feelings for the Tea Party.

Several reunion goers now lived in Northern Indiana, and why wouldn’t they?  Taxes are lower, and the state isn’t going bankrupt.  They moved there precisely to pay considerably less in taxes.  Kind of like Mitt Romney.

I talked to a Firefighter union official.   He was worried what the state was going to do to the union pension fund, a reasonable concern given the fact that Illinois is going broke in a hurry.

News wasn’t all grim.  My friend Tyrone, who works at a steel factory in the area, told me that he gets all of the hours he wants and more, often working more than 60 hours a week, which includes double time when he works on weekend.

Several others who work in manufacturing, especially anything associated with the automobile industry, reported that business was booming.  The car industry was back.

I had an interesting discussion with the spouse of a friend of mine.  He described himself as a liberal Democrat who cared about people.  But he was also an industrial engineer whose focus is getting greater productivity out of the plant he oversees, which basically means getting more production out of less people.  I asked him which country he thought had the most productive manufacturing industry, and he said Germany, but that America was quickly gaining ground.

I talked to another friend who used to work at the Chicago Board of Trade, but now sells equipment to big manufacturers like Caterpillar.  The CBOT used to be a huge employer for folks on the South Side of Chicago, but the death of the open outcry system and the rise of computer trading killed a lot of jobs.

Another fellow graduate ran a public radio station in the state, which wasn’t much of surprise, since he was deeply involved in H-F’s radio program.   NPR is on the chopping block, as is the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  He was concerned about this future, but understood that change is inevitable.

A few of the reunionites looked like they were either on drugs or had just recently got off of drugs.  The pretty girls in high school seemed to get prettier, the fat girls got fatter (as did the fat boys, which would include me), and the skinny girls seemed to stay pretty skinny.  A few men had lost all of their hair. Some people looked exactly the same while others were unrecognizable.

Some were still married to their high school sweethearts and were grappling with empty nest syndrome.  Others (like me) had young kids at home.  There were a couple of grandparents.  One of my buddies is still footloose and fancy- free.

Most in the class seemed to be slowly but surely pulling out of the doldrums of the Great Recession.  But none were satisfied with the state of our political discourse.  There was uniform disgust with the intense partisanship that emanates from Washington.   One friend came up to me and asked why neither political party would ever entertain a good idea from the other party.  Nobody believes in the idea of a “united” state of America, that was his point, and it was a good one.

There wasn’t a lot of love for Obama among the folks I talked to, even though Illinois is his home state.

It was great to see so many old friends and to see how their run through life is progressing.  For most, it seems to be progressing quite nicely.  For that, we should all thank the teachers at Homewood-Flossmoor, who provided them the opportunity to get a quality education, whether we wanted it or not.