“Unpretentious”

I’m still recovering from the weekend. I know that many others are as well, certainly anyone who made it past the reunion proper, and the closing of the speakeasy bar, and the continuation into a couple of the hotel rooms. The room I ended up in reportedly had 25 people — fitting for a 25th reunion, I think. We were part of a group who had spent three years of high school together, and who had then gone on to amass degrees a-plenty from a very impressive list of schools. But, we all hung out into the way wee hours of the morning and talked. Talked about our kids, our plans, our lives. Reminisced about old stories, some of which only one or a few could recall, some of which only one or a few ever had any prior knowledge of.

A spouse in the room who also happens to be a colleague (same field, different school, but in a consortium with the school I am at) asked me how many in our class went into academia. I don’t know the number offhand, but a quick Facebook question turned up at least 10% of the class fitting that description, and I know we’re leaving people out. I suspect that’s higher than the usual high school class.

A word that was used to describe the group attending the reunion by one who knows us well (and has known us since the first fateful day nearly 28 years ago) was “unpretentious.” I like it.

While “what do you do?” was a common question at the reunion, it was not a loaded question. The answer was not judged, as far as I can tell. I talked to surgeons and professors and stay-at-home moms and all sorts of others, it was all good.

And to think, some 28 years ago, we saw ourselves on the pages of the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and countless other local Illinois papers — the best and the brightest, they said. Here’s part of the mission — of a high school!

...igniting and nurturing creative, ethical scientific minds that advance the human condition

part of the mission statement

But today — this weekend, at least — gathered together to celebrate 25 years that we were not all together in the same building on the same campus — we were ourselves, and we were not merely the sum of our degrees or of our titles. I’d like to think that it extends beyond this weekend. While yes, I have invoked my degree in certain circumstances, I generally feel uncomfortable doing so. (I am made uncomfortable when my CV gets scrutinized in China, and much made of where my degrees were earned — which has happened much more than I would like.)

Perhaps it’s age-related. But I think it’s more than that. As a group, we have been good at learning things. And I think that many of us have learned how to be comfortable with who we are as individuals. And if you’re comfortable with yourself, you’re less likely to have to rely on that title or that degree to prop yourself up.

That’s enough philosophy and psychology from a tired ecologist.

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