A Tribute to the Class of '99

On the modest 37-inch TV that sits atop the fireplace mantle in our home, the time counts forward, second by second. It's a screen saver of sorts, one that updates the time twice a year when it moves forward or backward an hour. If you sit long enough and watch it, it can have one of two effects: either it will calm you as you watch white, digital numbers count up in rhythm, or it will drive you crazy with worry, knowing time is literally passing you by, and nothing in your meager mortality can stop it.

As I stared aimlessly at the minutes trickling into the future, I realized that this June marks 18 years since I, along with 131 others, graduated Chesnee High School. The 132 of us, along with millions across the nation, became the final seniors to walk across the stage in the 20th century.

The 18th Anniversary of anything doesn’t seem significant. But if you perform the math correctly, this summer all of us who graduated in 1999 will have, more or less, spent more time out of “childhood” than in it. More time out of being “school age” than being in it. More time as true adults instead of just minors.

A large blue plastic tote contains books and boxes. All contain mementos of my childhood from elementary years through college. Everything from field day ribbons to Clemson ticket stubs exists there. Scraps of paper with things scribbled that I scarcely recall.  

The majority of these equally worthless and priceless pieces of nostalgia come from my four years of high school. Newspaper clippings of sports articles. Movie ticket stubs (anyone else remember Can’t Hardly Wait?) Random photos of fellow classmates, many who now look nothing like these on their Facebook profiles, but amazingly so many that still look just the same.

Then there are 4 thick hardcover yearbooks. Loaded with pages of pictures, some formal, some not. Sports teams, clubs, band, class personalities and beauties all cataloged here for eternity, or at least until my children or my grandchildren eventually throw them out.

But also in these pages exist literally hundreds of handwritten notes. Some referring to some long-forgotten inside joke. Many with the sentiment “you’re a cool guy….keep in touch over the summer…see ya!” So many of these bring a smile to my face. Sadly, some are from people I can barely remember.

18 years seems like forever. How does it slip by so quickly?

I’m fairly certain my high school experience was relatively typical. Easy classes, good friends, fun memories. Some more unique than others.

Running cross country practices in sweltering heat, going 10 miles strong on Klepper’s Loop. Legs like jello by the time mile 8 hit, but you kept going because you loved it. The sweet smell of black locust trees as you ran down Highway 11 became so familiar day after day that nearly 20 years later when you come across that scent you’re taken back to a time your body didn’t quit on you quite so easily.

The endless hours of basketball on Friday nights. And Saturday mornings. And several days a week in the summer. The chances to play the role of a hero, even in your own mind, in an insignificant pick-up game with friends. Buck Creek. Cooley Springs. Arrowwood. Various other asphalt courts with broken backboards and torn nets. The glory of a church league championship is cradled in a special place in my mind.

The classes that we were forced to take and wouldn’t admit we needed until well after we left. The English classes from Mrs. Howard, Settle, Ponder, and Greenway that caused me to love literature more than I thought I would. Coach Cash trying to teach us geometry. Coach Jones working with me one-on-one to pass my driver’s license test by getting that tricky parallel parking figured out. Mrs. Jolly’s tremendous patience with a rowdy group of juniors in AP History, the woman who instilled in us that “to impeach only means to bring charges against”.

All great memories. All of us had our own, good and bad. But I have to ask the question:

So what?

Does any of that make us special? Do we matter more than the others? Other than bringing the end to a century of graduations, who cares about the class of 1999?

I do.

We do.

Because it’s us. It’s our class. It was from the day we started kindergarten. And it still is today.

And beyond that, it matters because we’ve got a lot to be proud of.

Because the class of ’99 is part of Generation X, nobody expected us to do anything. Never thought we’d make much of ourselves. Never really grow up.

But you should look at us now.

We are school teachers. Hair stylists. Business owners.

We have our own bands.

We literally spend the majority of our time serving the less fortunate.

We are husbands and wives.

Mothers and fathers.

We are college graduates. We have master’s degrees. We work 40 hours plus a week jobs that provide for a family.

We are veterans, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to keep Americans safe and free.

We are a lot of things, but we are not lazy, apathetic, and unconcerned.

But don’t think anything has been handed to us. We’ve all faced our own unique struggles. The Class of ’99 has widows. We have cancer survivors. We have children facing health problems no parent should have to deal with. These are things they didn’t teach us in high school to deal with. You just learn to.

We’re the Class that experienced the O.J. Simpson trial, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Columbine all in our four years of high school. We are not blind to the trials of the world on a global scale. We grew up in those four years. We grew up even more in the 18 years since.

This post is a tribute to you, Class of ’99. Just something to reflect on those years we spent together. But it doesn’t really do justice to everyone.

I should dig through picture albums and post some old photos I have, but they wouldn’t represent who we are. They’re who we used to be.

This post should have a picture of James belting out a song on stage with his guitar.

This post should have a picture of Sherilyn serving Thanksgiving dinner to people in Chicago who have no family to spend it with.

This post should have a picture of Jeff and Travis and Stu in their uniforms standing in some cursed desert, protecting our freedoms.

This post should have a picture of John and Carrie and Timmy and Shannon, former classmates now husbands and wives.

This post should have a picture of Tomelex mentoring young men.

This post should have a picture of Andrea and Cassie and Ann Margaret molding young minds in the classroom.

This post should have a picture of Rhonda and Casey, cancer survivors.

This post should have a picture of Tommy, a man opening up his own successful business.

This post should have a picture of a lot of you moms and dads and your kids graduating from kindergarten or middle school or even high school.

This post should have a picture of Marvin, a friend gone much too young.

Yes, this post should have images of who we are now. Because who we were was a group of naïve 18-year olds knowing next to nothing about the real world. And now while we don’t know it all, we certainly have experience under our belt. 18 years’ worth.

And we haven’t mastered life yet, but we’ve done well enough to teach the next generation to not spend time watching the clock tick by. You’re only young once. Soak up life and youth and all that comes with it. And know that while you may think you’re in the best days of your life, the days will get even sweeter as time goes by, as it speeds up and slows down, and as you realize that Chesnee ain’t such a bad place after all.