Cyber Reunited

Three years of living in a home that overlooked the ocean may seem privileged, but at the time I couldn't have appreciated it. I'm certain that images of "the good life" come to mind.

It began in my sophomore year of high school when I was shipped off to Monterey Bay Academy, a religious, boarding school located on a private beach south of Santa Cruz. When my parents dropped me off, my life didn't feel as privileged as the setting would lead one to believe. At the time, MBA included a strict work-study regimen as part of its education for 500 students. All were required to work four hours per day in addition to completing class courses. My assigned, non-negotiable job was in "Produce" where I labored each day on a section of the school's 380 acres, picking kiwi fruit and vegetables before heading to classes. I was paid $2.25/hr in tuition deduction -to the glee of my parents.

I didn't doubt the love of my parents, but as they climbed back into their car for their 400 mile trip back home, I detected a hint of excitement in their faces -expressions you might expect on a couple who are beginning a second honeymoon.

On the six hour drive to my twenty year reunion I cram-studied my yearbook in preparation to remember names.

Monterey Bay Academy, at the time, included a strict work-study regimen as part of its education for 500 students. We were all required to work four hours per day in addition to completing class courses. My job was in "Produce" where I labored on a section of the school's 380 acres, picking kiwi fruit and vegetables. I was paid $2.25/hr in tuition deduction -to the glee of my parents.

The campus was closed and guard gated for both in-comers and out-goers. A student leaving without an adult guardian was forbidden. Weekend visits home were arranged every six to eight weeks -with parental permission.

Girls and boys lived in separate dorms under constant supervision by faculty.

To encourage a good night's rest, the electricity in the dorm was cut each night at 9:30 PM after a couple of warning blinks and an intercom announcement that triggered hall-running and flashlight-searching chaos.

Caffeinated beverages and the newly invented Walkmans (playing rock music, no doubt) were forbidden and confiscated on sight by the deans. If you could smuggle in a can of Coca-Cola, it would sell for five bucks (or seven bucks easily -if it was cold).

Girls and boys were permitted to visit the beach on alternate days. Occasionally, "mixed beach" would be announced if enough faculty were present to supervise beach "activities."

Dress code, hair length, co-ed social contact and a plethora of other regulations provided endless reasons to rebel -and we did. I now realized that the discipline, scheming, complaining, learning and growing with one another truly created a sibling relationship between my classmates.

My first glimpse of my "grown up" classmates was our Saturday night reunion party at a local resort. Over 100 attended from our class of only 165. Aside from the usual weight gain and hair loss experienced by most classmates, I noticed new body parts had been purchased for some and old body parts re-sculpted or lifted for others. I saw old flames chatting while husbands and wives looked on -probably oblivious to the fire that burned before. I saw familiar cliques reappear as if no time had passed. The lack of change was eerie.

A bizarre phenomenon occurred on Sunday morning as we all prepared to say good bye. The expressions on faces matched those seen on graduation day, twenty years ago, when the good byes were so painful. Now, in less than two days, old friendships had been rekindled, just as quickly, these connections were threatened once more by geography and new lives elsewhere.

Technology to the rescue! A few days after the reunion, we set up a new website for our class. We used free downloadable software from www.phpnuke.org. Our site includes a discussion forum to reminisce and share updates about our lives since high school. It houses a photo gallery in which classmates can upload photos of family and an event calendar. A private messaging system mimics email and a host of other features provide many ways to communicate.

Invitations to join the site were emailed. I predicted that a handful of the most nostalgic members would log on to see it. I was wrong; over 90 classmates signed up in the first two months. We have uploaded over 1,100 photos of family and friends and the forums are filling with conversations and priceless stories. The web has turned our computer monitors into a wonderful world into which we can peer to visit friends. At any time, we can share a new photo or memory and feel connected -without cost for gasoline, postage, or time for travel. It's exploitation of technology at its finest.

The best news is that any group of people can set up such a website, paying only a bit of time and effort. A web search will reveal many retail products and subscription websites that aim to reunite classmates, family or other groups. I have found the free options to be as effective and much more customizable. If you have a pending reunion of any sort, consider a website for the attendees. It will be a sure hit after the party and a treasure to all the attendees who wish to keep renewed contact alive.

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