As much as I am a fan of the television series, this “Hawaii 5-0” trip was something else. I just returned from my 50th class reunion: St. Andrew’s Priory Class of 1967. Our class is the school’s Centennial Class so this reunion coincided with the 150th anniversary of the school’s founding by Queen Emma.
Many of us were initially reluctant to commit to attending the reunion events and had had little or no contact with our classmates nor the school over the decades. A few simply had no interest or desire to meet. St. Andrew’s Priory had its flaws and deficits, for sure, and I cannot know what hardships and difficulties might have been experienced by others. While I excelled in various areas, PE was surely not one of them.
From a graduating class of 60 girls, 18 of us gathered in Honolulu from various geographical points to remember our years at the Priory, reflect on our youth, and mostly to celebrate the women we have become and the lives we are living.
We’ve all learned that life does not move in a straight line, but twists and turns often beyond our control. The bright-faced girl I was who graduated in 1967 thought she was so ready for life, so ready to step out into and meet the larger world. My high school graduation seemed to offer such freedom and promise. I had no idea what was in store for me.
Likewise, I went to my reunion without a clear idea of what might happen, whether I would feel awkward or have a really good time. Fifty years is a lifetime, and I didn’t know if I would have anything in common with the girls I once knew. As we reconnected over Facebook, the memories began to bubble up, and I realized that these girls had been important in my school years.
I am delighted that I went. The girls we once were have been replaced with strong women who have been tested by life. I heard some of the stories, but not all of them. What I know is that we are no longer innocents. We have learned depth and honesty, humor and wisdom. We have grown beyond our limited selves. It was a pleasure to meet the women of the Class of 1967! And I am honored to be one of them.
I discovered I have a deep bond and kinship with my classmates that I didn’t know existed. Although I hadn’t socialized much with some of them during my Priory years, our shared memories of the school, our teachers, the Sisters of Transfiguration who ran the school created an indelible bond that surfaced during our time together. Who remembers the names of the five Sisters? Our Latin class teachers? That lunch used to cost 25 cents? (Really? Wasn’t 50 cents?) That we would gather under the ylang ylang tree at the start of PE class? Or Mrs. Hirao’s shortbread cookies?
Of course, we each remembered different things, but we also had some common memories that were fun to recall.
I confessed I still had occasional nightmares about failing to bring my PE clothes (ironed blue shorts and white blouse) on PE day. I don’t even remember what the punishment was, but I felt the fear deep in my bones at such an infraction.
When we toured the school, we saw the many improvements of the campus (a new gym! a music program!) and heard about the exciting new curriculum designed to foster leadership and individual direction in the girls’ future careers. Other changes include the uniforms, a boy’s school for grades 1-5, and attending chapel at St. Andrew’s Cathedral only once a week instead of every day of school during our years.
It’s an exciting time for the Priory. New leadership by Head of School Dr. Ruth R. Fletcher is bringing fresh energy into our historic school. This small private girls’ school is graduating even smaller classes than our 60 seniors in 1967, but this is intentional in order to provide each girl with the attention she needs to discover her potential and talents in an ever-changing and challenging world.
And yet, some traditions continue. My classmates and I were deeply touched during the Coral Cross Ceremony on Ascension Day, which celebrates the school’s founding. The junior class decorates the cross each year to honor the school and the senior class. The plain coral cross is transformed overnight by the students who sleep at the school to ensure this is completed by the next morning. Each year, the design is different and anticipation is keen to view the artistry. The juniors sing their class song to the seniors, then the seniors reciprocate. With full hearts and through tears.
It’s a beautiful tradition, which brought back memories of our junior class decorating the cross in yellow and white carnations and singing our class song. On special days like this, we wore our white pleated skirts instead of our navy or black ones. I had almost forgotten this detail until one of classmates gave us copies of our class photo of Ascension Day 1966 when we were juniors.
I had not returned to the school since I graduated. This class reunion gave me a reason to reconnect to my alma mater, my classmates, and the knowledge that, whether we know it or not, we share an important bond to Hawaii and Hawaiian history. One hundred fifty years ago, Queen Emma was inspired to start a school to educate girls. This was a radical idea. We alumnae embody a queen’s vision.