Return to High School

Is there life after high school?
Moving on is simple. It’s what we leave behind that’s hard.” - Author Unknown

What is it about the whole high school experience that has such a powerful hold on our imagination, our emotional compass?

Two years, five months and several odd days after visiting my alma mater with one of my Class of 1983 classmates, Maggie Wunderlich, I’m still somewhat bemused by how many memories can get stirred up by the simple act of opening a door and crossing one’s old high school’s threshold.

I had last visited South Miami Senior High in the spring of 1989; Conchy Bretos, then the person in charge of Miami-Dade Community College’s Recruitment and Retainment Department, knew that I had attended that school from August 1980 to June 1983. I was a somewhat respected college-level student journalist at the time, so Ms Bretos thought I’d be suitable to explain to a ninth-grade English class what Miami-Dade was like in comparison to high school and what the College had to offer.

I went, of course, and I improvised my way through a somewhat awkward presentation. I also handed out about 30 copies of the current issue of the South Campus’ student newspaper where I was then a staff writer. I thought I’d bombed, but Ms. Bretos was happy with both my performance and the students’ response. She sent a memo to her boss and mine (the Director of Student Publications), telling them that I’d done a good job and that she thought we should go again in the future.

For some reason, this never happened, and I thought I’d never return to South Miami High.

That is, until my friend Maggie, who’s now married (with children!) and living way up in Michigan, came to Miami to attend a wedding.

Maggie and I had not seen each other for a long time – at least not since 1985 – and we lost touch of each other during our college years. But thanks to Facebook, she found me and we reconnected online…

Anyway, Maggie wanted to hang out with me for a while on the day before she and her family had to fly back to Michigan, and she thought it would be nice if we could go see our old school, for old time’s sakes.

On the way to the school , we talked about some of our memories of those days. She and her older sister were in the same grade I was in, and Maggie was in both my home room and newspaper class. And for some reason I seem to have retained more memories of high school than she, because there were many instances when I’d bring up a teacher’s name or an incident that happened in our “tour of duty,” and she’d say, “I don’t remember that!”

“Beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad; it’s what you do in between that counts the most.” - Author Unknown

Once on campus, I felt a strange combination of My God, this place has changed and déjà vu. Some things, naturally, looked different – there is a new building where part of the parking lot used to be and the paint scheme has changed some – but the front entrance was still in the same place and so were some of the benches outside.

“I always knew that I would look back on the times i cried and laugh, but I never knew that I’d look back on the times I laughed and cry.” - Author Unknown

The biggest change, of course, was the post-Columbine emphasis on security. Where in 1983 – or even 1989 – there were no security procedures to follow, Maggie and I had to have a Visitor’s ID pass made before we could go to the Main Office.

We also couldn’t – for the obvious reasons of security and non-disruption of classes – wander about the whole campus in search of the handful of faculty members still at South Miami High 26 years after our graduation. (Maggie and I actually talked to two of our former teachers; she spoke to Mr. Branstetter, her English teacher, and I saw my former Algebra I instructor, Ms. Castaneda. She guided us around as much as the rules and the time of day allowed; she even took our pictures with our digital cameras.)

“It is hard to convince a high-school student that he will encounter a lot of problems more difficult than those of algebra and geometry.” - Edgar Watson Howe

The strangest of the changes was that two of the school administrators – whose names escape me right now – were fellow members of the Class of 1983. I couldn’t remember them, and I’m not sure if Maggie did, either, but they were pretty gracious and took time from their work routine to talk to us.


  1. Nice post. It brought back some old memories from SMSH. Mr. Branstedder was my favorite. My 17 year old now goes to SMSH & tells me that she had him for Drama Class. While I went there I had Mr. Strickland for Drama. Thanks for bringing me back through memory lanes. Go Cobras Class of 1988 rules!!!


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