In 1973, I knew everything. I was a few months shy of 11 years old when the above picture was taken.
Let me share some memories from this 5th grade class of the Washington Elementary School, West Virginia to draw out some important lessons. Miss Chrissman and Mrs. Brown (my other teacher that year) encouraged us to read and dream big dreams. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s our school did not have a big library (just a few shelves in the common room which was also the cafeteria and place where we watched the space launches) but Mrs. Brown encouraged us to read and read and read. She would say “The road to knowledge begins with the turn of a page.”
Mrs. Brown didn’t laugh when I wrote an essay on how I planned to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering the molecular basis for cell differentiation. (I was sure at the time that the only reason why people didn’t understand the molecular basis for cell differentiation is because I hadn’t worked on it yet. Scientists still don’t know.) Mrs. Brown did keep me in at recess one day when I loudly and inappropriately criticized the principal because we didn’t have enough books in the library, and I had read them all.
Mrs. Brown was special, and she made me feel special. As a leader, you can be a Mrs. Brown, too.
The teachers let us fight it out on the playground. Miss Chrissman would occasionally send a boy to run around the classroom building five times to burn off fidgety energy. This was practicality, not punishment. Those were the days before parents scripted and scheduled group activities. Our playground had some monkey bars and swings, but mostly lots of open dirt and grass, and we would routinely run around in the woods adjacent to the school building. The woods seemed endless. Years later I saw all-asphalt playgrounds in Cleveland and felt sad for the kids.
In 1969, I came in 2nd place in the sand-eating contest behind Dave Starcher (he’s behind me in this picture). I can’t remember why we devised the contest, but boys are like this. I bragged about how well I had done all afternoon. The sand was nasty going down, with all the stuff in it, but that only took a minute or so. Getting the sand out, however, was like extruding sandpaper through my sensitive lower orifice. It took several days. It was the sort of thing you didn’t tell your mother.
There are many things about life where the consequences play out over a much longer time than the event, and are more painful.
I was in love with Brenda Tucker, and told my mom that she would be the only woman I would ever love. Brenda was very quiet, but she laughed at my jokes and her smiles melted me. My passionate conviction evaporated a year later. We learn and re-learn through the years when our heart is trustworthy and when we should be suspicious.
These were glory days of vacuum glass thermoses and metal lunch boxes with our favorite TV shows. I won’t tell you which of these kids was routinely bringing in moonshine in a lunch thermos. A number of these kids had rough home lives. It was years before that I learned about some of the ugliest stories. This, plus my personal experiences, has taught me that practically everyone has some dark, hard stuff in their past.
For most of us, these were our best clothes. The styles look silly now, and future styles will eventually look silly.
The photographer was seriously hung-over, reeked of booze and was not particularly skilled. I can remember him tripping over his equipment several times while trying to line up the group shot. See how many trees are “growing” out of people’s heads? We got it done anyway.
I don’t know what happened to all my classmates as they grew up; I’ve lost touch with all of them now. But imagine how many stories have emerged during the 42 years since then! Think of the potential of all these young people, and the yet-unimagined events that would come. I have to wonder what Mrs. Brown and Miss Chrissman thought of us. Take a look at your current work team and think about all the potential they have!
In 1973, I knew a lot for a 10-year-old, but it was very little of what I would learn. This is certainly true for me in 2015, too.