High school reunions, am I right? It's bonkers seeing our former classmates as real life adults- some for better and some for worse. But the craziest thing isn't where they are in life. What's most shocking is the comparison between who they were as kids, and who they are now as grown-ups.
The Ultimate Bad Guy
Ilya Mikhailov (name changed) was the ultimate bad guy.
He terrified teachers, charmed girls and made boys envious and admiring. At the age of 14–15 when everybody was still a bit childish, he gave an impression of a real man. He was witty, cynical, and had a great charisma. He could outdrink anyone and he apparently already was having sex with girls. His countenance was that of a mafia boss.
It was in Russia, in the glorious Nineties, remembered as the era of democracy, freedom and unlimited opportunities by some Russians and as the time of misery, fear and all-encompassing crime by the majority of the population. It was probably both. In any case, many teenagers saw criminal career as a most promising one - a racketeer, a hitman, a prostitute, and, above all, a mafia boss - it sounded so romantic.
Ilya adopted the image. He would respond to teachers' rebukes by putting a threatening smile on his face and asking: Do you have children? Do you wish them to live? Of course, these were no real threats and teachers understood this as well. These were "almost threats" that made Ilya sound very cool for his classmates and made teachers really uneasy.
I hadn't seen Ilya for twenty-two years. I'd heard about him having serious problems with alcoholism but not much more. Last autumn, we finally met in Moscow, we and five more of our classmates, in the apartment of our beloved math teacher. All the classmates were easily recognisable. And when we told our life, turn in turn, no one really surprised others. Except Ilya.
Physically, he did not change much. His manner of speech is the same. He did not lose an ounce of his charm, his charisma, his self-confidence. The only thing that vanished absolutely was his cynicism. Was he really a cynic? Or was it just a mask?
When he was a teenager, he seemed to have taken a course of aggressive profiteering. Nothing could be farther from truth. He lives in Siberia and helps people get rid of alcohol addiction. Mother Siberia helped me - he said. She gave me strength to get off drinking. And I understood what I should do. I know only too well what alcohol is. I managed to stop. I can help others do the same thing. Perhaps this is why I had to endure all this? It was probably God's will.
Yes, Ilya also became a fervent believer.
There was one boy who I went to school with for 13 years. We were never really close, but we talked from time to time. I lived near a marine base, and the student turnover year after year was pretty high. Of my entire kindergarten class, maybe 25% of them were still in town at high school graduation. He was one of them.
I reconnected with him on Facebook 16 years after graduating. Only then did I learn that he was biracial. I was surprised that I didn't figure that out on my own when we were in high school. Once I saw a picture of him with his parents on Facebook I was like: "Oh! I can't believe I never noticed that before."
Anyway, that has nothing to do with what he actually did in life post-graduation. I was mostly surprised at my own total lack of observational skills when I was a kid.
Over the last four years, I've reconnected with several dozen old high school classmates. I don't talk to many of them, but we've all friended each other.
I grew up in a small Southern town, and the opioid epidemic didn't spare my graduating class. There have been a few overdose deaths and a lot of drug busts/jail time in the bunch.
There are also a lot of divorces and single mothers in the bunch.
I've also seen a lot of wasted potential from my old "gifted" classmates. I was college-tracked with the gifted kids back then, and it seems like a lot of them have struggled to find a decent job.
But the one who has shocked me above all others is a woman whom I also knew for 13 years in school. She lived near me, which meant her parents didn't have a lot of money. She was smart. She was ambitious. She moved away for college and graduated with honors. She had her ticket to a good life outside of that small town.
Then she moved back to that small town. She took jobs well below her skill set. She married a guy that everyone knew would cheat on her, and he did, and she took their two children and left him. She is a heavy recreational drug user. She reposts liberal talking points on a regular basis. She's one of those "waiting for the social revolution" types of people… One of those "I refuse to vote for Clinton because she's not far enough to the left like Sanders" types.
It's shocking, to me, because she was such a strong, independent woman when I knew her. And now, at least from the outside, she seems like she's given up on ever making it on her own.
That probably sounds really judgmental. There are probably things that happened to her beyond her control that brought her to this point. I'm not judging her. I'm just shocked, that's all.
Some celebrity stories.
I have two such classmates.
I attended a private school called "Pine Crest" in Fort Lauderdale in my middle school years, and there was a slightly strange guy known for his early acting skills who was there at the same time I was, but a couple years ahead of me. His name is Kelsey Grammer. It's almost impossible if you live in the US that you don't know who he is, having no doubt seen him on television or the big screen...he first got to be well-known on the series "Cheers".
The equally impressive other one was in High School. After my two years at Pine Crest, I went back to public school. There was a guy in my grade who was a nerd, for sure, very focused but popular enough. Looking back, he reminds me of the Anthony Michael Hall character on "The Breakfast Club"...for one thing he had a remotely slight resemblance, but mainly because he was one of the few brave people who took all the math and science courses offered, instead of the minimum to get a High School Diploma.
A couple years after I graduated I joined the Navy. As time went on I began to hear that he had, too, but started out at the Naval Academy (an accomplishment in itself). The story went something like this:
-he actually began college at Florida State U, but after a time was told they didn't have anything challenging enough for him
-he was then admitted to the US Naval Academy.
-he graduated top Midshipman of the class (TOP top...like, #1...he was what I think they call "brigade leader" and walked out in front of the entire class when they marched.)
-he chose to be a pilot and got assigned jets/ fighters (the most elite)
-he was so good, they sent him to "Top Gun" fighter pilot school in California. (yes, Top Gun is not just a movie concept.)
-well...he wasn't done yet. He applied to the astronaut program, and made it. Flew the space shuttle on several missions.
If you drive by our old high school these days, the street it's on has been re-named in his honor -- "Brent Jett Blvd". For me maybe the most classic (ironic?) part of his whole story is his last name. True story. Go ahead, look him up!
Nothin' wrong with that.
There have been a handful of girls from school who have married older, wealthier men.
The men they married tended to be in the 15–25 years older range.
Despite the age gap, I could see how people would find these men attractive. They were likely more mature. They still had a classy, regal appearance to them, they took decent care of themselves, and they'd held up well.
There are plenty of reasons, outside of money, that bring women to date older men.
A particular girl, who is in her early 30's, is now engaged to a wealthy man, who is close to 70 years old.
I try to be an optimist; but when I see Instagram pictures of her, with her other girlfriends that are her age, and then this old man standing with them, it is a startling contrast.
I do hope she actually loves him…but I wonder.
Not a secret, apparently.Giphy
I went to high school with a Victoria's Secret Angel.
Well, she wasn't quite known as an angel back then, but you may have seen her in posters and things of the sort around storefronts and ads.
This is Erin Heatherton. Formerly known as Erin Bubley. She changed her name when she became famous, and I'm not sure why since her last name is kind of.. well.. bubbly, and fun sounding.
She once dated Leonardo DiCaprio back in 2011? That's pretty cool, if you're into living a dream inside of a dream.
Erin didn't always look the way she does today, and back when I remember her, she was a tom-boyish basketball player who wore sweats and hoodies every day to school. Little did anyone know there were wings underneath those drawstrings.
This could have hit or missed.
I went to high school with a girl that exploded with fame in just a few short days. Given the nature of the culture that she joined it's completely understandable . Being unique in adult films will really help you rise in fame.
We had a couple classes together and sat next to each other in summer school geometry one year, she was also in my same geometry class during the school year. We weren't friends but I also didn't dislike her or have anything against her. we just lived separate lives. Other people really teased her for being heavier, or were just plain mean to her for the fun of it; neither of which I participated in.
Back then her name was Sarah Joe.
Now, her name is Mia Khalifa, and might I add she's very successful now as a sports caster and loves to roast all her haters. Keep doing you girl.
You never know what could happen.
A friend of mine always led from the bottom in our class. A type of guy who would not look at the performance list when the results were out. In case he checked, he only went to confirm that he was not the last and that would be his relief. Most of us predicted he would be involved in theft or maybe life would push him into struggles. Well, our prediction was due to his mischievous character. Living with his grandma, the lad always stole her money to engage in gambling and buying toys in order to match the rich kids in class.
Fast forward 13–14 years, I get connected with him in Facebook and he requests for my phone number. When I assessed his profile, wait a minute! He is living a life that many young men would wish to live. Having a posh home, vehicles, balling at high end restaurants and pubs, drinking the most expensive wines and relating with the who is who in my country.
We link up and meet in his house. He then explains how life changed through networking, and now he's doing businesses. He met a guy who introduced him to some trade. And he's now engaging in active politics. What's funny is he gives me an offer to handle his social media accounts due to his political endeavors. And at this point,he reminds me how he used to be a joker in class and we reminisce about life.
When I look at his life, I understand something. Life is unpredictable, and sometimes success is not just about hard work but also the value of networking. Not the networking where you engage in illegal activities, but that where you get the right information. Talk of being at a strategic position… Never underestimate the poor performers in class. They may never be clever (ability to remember information) but they might be wise (ability to handle things and discern when to do something or not in real life situations)…
I don't want any of those dumbasses knowing anything about me and what I've done since being freed from "formal education."
If those nimrods knew about my success, they would be on me like stink on manure. I have done everything possible to keep myself separate from them and the public eye. And I know how to hide my money away from my personal name.
If they ever looked for me, they would find a simple family man living a couple thousand miles away in a modest house with old beat up cars.
This is all I publicly own. And I "pay" myself a small income to maintain appearances for taxes as well.
I actually retired from full time work at 38. I now have people who do what I need for me. I only put in 3–5 hours a week making sure that my ventures and investments are running smoothly.
Once you find the right people to surround yourself with, life is perfect.
I never expected the kind of image my mom send me of a classmate from elementary school.
I and her grew up in the same small village. She had the most beautiful handwriting of the whole class, long blond hair and was quite thin even though she ate quite a lot. My mom always spoke about how bad her older brother were. I don't remember exactly what she said, I think she said one of them even was in prison. Not sure about anything here. I don't know them, never saw them.
She, Lets call her, Ella, had a big attitude. Sometimes she would act like she was about to hit someone, when you displeased her. She said it was a joke, and she never actually hit someone, but something about the way she looked when doing it made me think, that I would not be surprised when there comes the day where the rumours about her brothers would be the same like the rumours about her. So I kind of expected of her, that one day her joke would end up in actually hitting someone and a criminal record.
We never really where close, so no surprise that we had no more contact later and after my family moved. I never thought about her.
Well, 8 years later, I couldn't be more surprised. My mom send my photo of Ella. She won the country's beauty pageant contest in 2017.
That's a shock.
Not strictly a classmate but someone I knew from the university gym. He had done an undergrad degree in engineering and at that time was doing an MBA while I was a grad student in another department. All I knew about his career after graduating was that he'd taken a job with some sort of mutual fund.
Fast forward twenty years - I'm on a business trip flying home and the stewardess hands me a newspaper that I just idly flip thru. There's an article that talks about the billionaires in the country - guess whose picture I see there. According to the article he's worth about two billion dollars.
This is a guy that came to Canada with his tuition paid and seven dollars in his pocket. He used to work as a bouncer in the campus pub.
She changed her story.Giphy
I went to high school with a girl we all thought would probably just get married and settle into that life. She wasn't, apparently, fit for much else. In ROTC she could not carry a rifle to save her life. Her first name was Vicki, and I won't tell you her last name or even the nickname we had for because that would give her away too. But here's the story.
The Commander of our ROTC unit somehow set her up as a housekeeper/maid for someone who soon became one of the most powerful men in the world. Now, you would think someone like her would just take the opportunity and run with it. Well, she did, but not in the way you might think.
She set up her own company devoted exclusively to providing only the very best housekeepers money ( and a very thorough vetting ) could buy. She became the first millionaire of our class.
And, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that's all that I've got to say about that.
Sounds pretty sweet.
Dale Edgar, one of my high school classmates. In high school we knew each other, but weren't close. We were both "quiet smart" in that neither of us let on that we mostly got really good grades, especially in math and science.
I remember Dale's interest in stock car racing. We both studied French. We both played guitar. We both ended up at SJSU, graduating in 1978. Then our paths diverged.
I went to MIT for grad school. Dale ended up at UC Riverside. I went into industry mostly working on government projects for EPA and DoE. Dale landed a job teaching at Stanford Medical School.
I had lost track of Dale for decades. Then a few years ago I learned that he had co-founded a company, Hypnion, in 2000. In 2007 he and his partners sold the company to Lilly for $47.5 M https://www.crunchbase.com/organ...
He's now semiretired and works for Vanderbilt University.
How the tables have turned.
There was a guy who was a year ahead of me. We worked together at a fast food place, when I was 16. He was known by many people as the guy to go to if you want "cheap" electronics. He always had a trunk full of stereo equipment, computers, tvs, etc. The only rule was don't ask where he got it, because it was mostly stolen. He got out of high school and disappeared for a couple years.
It has been over 15 years, since I lived there. I went back home last summer and found out now he's a police officer for the town. I have no idea if he's honest now or using that position to get away with more crime. I am very surprised he's not in prison.
Good for him!Giphy
A friend, let's call him R, had cystic fibrosis. In junior high and high school we were warned many times that CF was so brutal that R would probably not make it to age 20. I think that made our nerdy little friend group bond because we all wanted Ralph to cram in as much fun as possible.
Well he's pushing 50 now and is- no joke- a rocket scientist for NASA.
The NASA part isn't surprising because he is wicked smart. That he is middle aged and in good physical shape is surprising because all the adults were telling us he'd never make it.
A guy I went to high school with. He was relatively quiet but not isolated, really nice, a ginger with lots of freckles.
A few years later, I learned that he had killed his own mother.
Turns out the guy was a drug dealer, and his mother found out and berated him about it.
He took a kitchen knife and stabbed her something like 36 times.
Then he calmly called 911 and cried about how he'd found his mother lying in a pool of blood in the kitchen.
Well, obviously he was a better drug dealer than liar. They found him out and he went to jail.
Still puzzles me, though. Never thought this guy had it in him to be a cold-blooded killer.