The Best Years of Your Life on the Long Way Home

Somewhere in the not so distant past I heard a high school principal address his students with this. “Remember, these are the best years of your life.”

I was dumbfounded (gobsmacked as my friend Adrian would say.) Then I remembered the wisdom of teenagers who know the bull excrement sessions they are forced to attend mean little to their present life, and less to their future. They would ignore this driveling swine.

If any of us thought the rest of life after high school is all down hill, the despair would be overwhelming.


My high school class had more than 1,000 students. I was a nerd. Nearsighted with astigmatism and my hair cut (not styled mind you) by former Sergeant Dad in the age of long haired, freaky people. He favored a more militaristic style. I simply wanted to endure my high school years, keep my head down, and stay hidden in the shadows as much as possible.

There have been many best years of my life since then though. Getting married, and staying married, is the best. Holding your babies and watching them grow up are pretty much the best too. Then doing the same with grandbabies. Priceless. In almost fifty years since high school, I’d say even the bad years have been better than high school. Maybe that’s why I don’t do reunions.

This all came back to me the other day when Mr. Jackola, my sixth grade teacher who I’ve connected with on Facebook, sent me an article he’d written for the Spring 2002 edition of the newsletter for retired Richfield Schools employees and educators. He writes, brilliantly I think, about how retired teachers should think about the profound effects they had on their students. He relates this story from 1964, the year of Johnson vs. Goldwater for President and his second year of teaching sixth grade.

“One morning, Terry (a student) came to school very excited and immediately told me that Mr. Johnson has (sic) to be hospitalized. In full belief of what Terry had told me, I asked him for the reason LBJ needed to be hospitalized. His answer: ‘They found out that Mr. Johnson was passing gold water.’”

Mr. Jackola, or Mr. J. as he was known by Terry, was impressed that his sixth grade student was aware of and following national politics. I, on the other hand, am impressed that a sixth grader thought that passing gold water was a health issue.

In 2002, Mr. J. received a letter from the adult Terry, updating him on post sixth grade life and ending with this, “You can have great satisfaction in helping touch so many lives, including mine.”

Letters like this reward all of us, not just teachers. In our lives at work and with family and friends we touch many lives. We won’t always hear from those we’ve influenced, but once in a while we will.

So remember, the best years, and the best days of your life are now.

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