With a Little Help from the Class of ’81


Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends

Forty years ago this week I graduated from college. In many ways, however, this feels more like my 15th reunion than my 40th. Not that I don’t look and feel like it’s been a long forty years since I graduated from college. I do and it has been. Rather, it’s only been since our 25th Reunion in 2006 that I truly made a connection with this remarkable Class of 1981. More importantly, in the past 15 years I was able to draw support from them at two critical points in my life.

I experienced college through the Harvard Band and Wind Ensemble and numerous Dudley House activities (intramurals, house committee, dining hall, weekend security job).  And fulfilling the promise made by countless books, movies, and TV shows, I did bond with at least one classmate who became a lifelong friend – my Dudley House locker mate, that’s kind of like a roommate, right (and yes, two people per locker in Lehman Hall).  

As a music major and commuter for all four years, however, my time at Harvard was by definition several standard deviations from the mean –  or “Far from the matting crowd” as it read on one Dudley House t-shirt.

So, when I left Harvard in 1981, I had a strong connection to Dudley House and the Harvard Band, a connection to Harvard (more or less), but to the Class of ’81 specifically, not so much.  

Family, Life, and Career Choices – 2006 – 47 years old

The program at our 25th reunion featured an afternoon of classmate-led seminars on a variety of topics. I chose to attend the session offered by psychologist Daphne de Marneffe, Ph.D.  on issues related to family, life, and career choices. It quickly became apparent that the seminar was geared to the challenges faced by women, but my classmates were welcoming and the topic resonated with me.

In 2002, I left the Massachusetts Department of Education for the Center for Assessment, a move driven by the desire to be able to spend more time with my daughter, who at the time of our reunion in June 2006 was completing the sixth grade. The move also had the added benefit of being perceived, at least in some circles, as career advancement. Between 2001 and 2006, however, I considered and rejected multiple offers of positions that were clearly career advances if not life advances– offers with fancy titles, double my current salary, one offer to pay off our mortgage, etc.. In that time period, I don’t think that I attended an assessment conference that did not include a lunch or dinner to discuss a job offer (probably not the best situation for someone who already had an unhealthy link between stress and food). 

Although I felt good about my decisions, I still had doubts about whether I had made the right career choice.  The discussion in the seminar that afternoon and in Dr. de Marneffe’s book, Maternal Desire, provided me with the information and language I needed to ease my mind and validate my choices.

With the proximity, autonomy, and flexibility offered by the position at the Center, I was able to attend virtually all of my daughter’s concerts, dance recitals, basketball games, science fairs, etc. through high school as well as be home for family dinner on a regular basis – all without any regrets or feelings of guilt about a career path not taken. For that I am grateful.

Renew, Refresh, Recharge – 2016 – 57 years old

When I arrived at our 35th reunion I was wrapping up a project that had been the primary focus of my work at the Center since 2003. I was now regularly one of the oldest people at the table in any meeting. After a dozen years on this project, so much had changed in large-scale testing.  I was fairly certain I could see where educational assessment was heading and what the needs were, but it was less than clear to me whether I had the energy and focus to go there with it, let alone lead it there. Becoming proficient in R and data visualization software and whatever you need to know to publish stuff on the web is a young person’s game, right. Pretending that you understand Bayesian statistics or, if you actually do understand it, pretending that it’s telling you something real and important requires a level of commitment that I just didn’t think I had anymore.

For three days in Cambridge, however, what I saw and heard were members of a Class of ’81 who optimistically and encouragingly still were looking forward.  Whether it was how I will change the world or my little corner of it for the better or how I will change my life for the better, it was all about what comes next. There was no looking back, holding back, or sitting back. I attended a session led by a classmate whose work involved conveying information through a blog and I talked with classmates who know a thing or two about storytelling, and I when I sat down on the bus back to Portsmouth, NH on Saturday afternoon I was renewed, refreshed, and recharged.

Following the reunion, I took on assignments and accepted invitations that would lead to my first trips to exotic places like New York City, Europe, and Idaho.  I made presentations and I started writing and writing and writing.

And by the end of 2018, I knew what I wanted to be when I grow up, and I was looking forward to our next reunion in 2021.

It Was Worth the Wait

It took a little longer than I expected to make a connection with the Harvard-Radcliffe Class of 1981, but it was worth the wait. Over the past 15 years, I was able to enjoy the references to Saul Perlmutter on The Big Bang Theory, listened a little more closely when Loretta Lynch was mentioned on the news, and for several years never got on a plane without a Lisa Grunwald novel in my bag.

So, this is all to say thanks to my classmates in the Class of ‘81. See you at the next reunion, if not sooner.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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