Walking into St. Vincent High School on Monday morning was like entering a time warp. Though I’d taken a tour recently during my 10-year high school reunion weekend, it had been on a Sunday morning, when the campus was nearly deserted. This week, seeing the school swarming with teenagers and squeezing my way through the crowded hallways has played tricks on my brain, transporting me back to the mid-90s when I was a high school student. This feeling has hit me at various times this week, as I sit in my old desks in classes taught by my old teachers, most of whom are still at the school. I’ve had more powerful memories at SV than I’ve had at my other schools, because I attended the school more recently and knew most of the 400 students by sight.
Just being in certain spaces has triggered deja vu more than a few times. As I walk through the halls, I search for the faces of my old classmates without thinking. Strangely enough, there’s a boy who looks like my classmate Michael, and another who looks like Kingston. When I sit in Mr. Riley’s original Spanish room, I instinctively look around for Siobhan and Erin, and in Mr. G’s room, I expect to see my conversation partners Alicia and Ben. Walking through the double doors to the back parking lot reminds me of our senior prank. Several of the boys pushed Leah’s little orange car through the doors into freshman hall right before the bell rang, so students poured out of their classrooms to find a roadster in front of their lockers. The teachers got upset about the fire hazard and demanded that the car be removed immediately. At the time, I rolled my eyes at their outrage, but now I realize that ruffling their feathers was half the fun.
The school, though changed in a lot of physical ways, feels the same. Here’s an updated — though not complete — list from my post about the tour I took after the reunion:
These things remain the same:
- Lockers, desks, curtains, the indescribable smell of the halls and classrooms. Not unpleasant at all, just very distinct. (Friends who didn’t go to the school have guessed that the smell may be “body odor,” “teenage angst,” or “fear and insecurity.”)
- The statue of Mary with broken fingers (I’ll admit sacrilegiously that the statue reminds me of Chubbs after Happy Gilmore knocks off his wooden hand with a hockey stick).
- The white boards in Mr. O’Toole’s history class, updated regularly with quotes like, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
- Mr. Riley’s neat cursive on the Spanish room board, and Mr. Marcoux’s hand-printed algebra quizzes and worksheets (folded perfectly in half, of course).
- Mr. DeShazer’s biology room, which looks almost exactly the same as when I had Bio in 1995.
These things have changed:
- The two-toned hallway walls are now the colors of “ketchup and mustard,” as the students apparently say.
- $3 million gym, which was in the fundraising stages in ‘98.
- Stronger programs and space for art, music, drama, etc.
- State-of-the-art technology, including interactive whiteboards in several of the classrooms, a fully equipped chemistry lab, and new computers.
- Beautifully remodeled library with new computers. Strangely, the new library was designed with few bookcases, so the school unfortunately got rid of around 1,000 books.
- New murals around the school.
- Extra counseling staff and offices.
- Community garden that produces many pounds of produce each year.
I have to emphasize that the current technology blows my mind. When I graduated in 1998, I don’t think that Internet use had even completely caught on. In class, we watched videos on televisions perched on wheeled carts instead of the pull-down screens the school has today. If I remember correctly, some classrooms still had blackboards with chalk, instead of the modern interactive whiteboards that make my jaw drop. Teachers can project their computer desktops onto the whiteboard, then use a variety of functions like digitally highlighting notes, drawing diagrams in multiple colors, and showing photos and video with the click of a button. They can even control these things from anywhere in the room by using a little drawing tablet, or a wireless mouse. These boards are so intelligent that I’m suspicious they may one day turn the tables on us unsuspecting humans, like the cyborgs in Terminator 2 or the apes in Planet of the Apes.
Despite the physical updates to the campus, with classrooms and offices and parking lots being shifted around, the space is still rife with memories. The muddy track that I’ve run so many times…the spot on the floor in freshman hall where I used to finish homework in the mornings…the multi-purpose room where we held assemblies and occasional Catholic Masses. Tonight I happened to be on campus after dark, and I stood for a long time looking from outside into the empty, brightly lit hallways. I imagined how many little dramas had happened within these walls, how many relationships had begun and ended, how much growth thousands of students had experienced during their four years at the school. I’m still processing all the ways I changed during high school, but I know that my time at SV was one of the most formative periods in my life.
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If you’ve been back to your old schools, what spaces triggered memories for you?