I graduated from Haddonfield Memorial High School in 1963. No computers, no cellphones, no Internet, no email, no texting, no credit cards, no cassette tapes (let alone CDs), and no cable TV.
How the hell did I survive? By playing ball every day after school. By riding my bike. By being active. Oh, that.
Back then, Haddonfield, N.J., was a middle- and upper-middle-class town of 12,000 with a high school of around 1,000 kids. All smart.
Dress code: If you wore blue jeans to school, they sent you home.
It was a different time.
John Kennedy was president. Our history teacher made everyone subscribe to The New York Times, and every day he assigned us reading. What I remember most were the Kennedy press conferences. The Times published the entire text. Kennedy had an amazing sense of humor. I devoured every word.
Part of my 50-year high school reunion weekend included a Saturday tour of the high school. Amazing to think about how big it looked back then, and how small it looked today. It looked like a page out of “Catcher in the Rye.”
There was a memorial service Sunday in honor of our fallen classmates. Friends. Good friends. Happy and sad all at once. And the reality that age is setting in.
After the service almost no one left. We started talking about high school and some of the teachers and classes. Funny stories, escapades, sports teams, assorted social events, and recounting memories of our departed friends.
Within a few minutes, the talk took a surprising turn. Each person talked about a teacher who affected them. So many of the stories were similar. We were grateful for the teacher or teachers who emphasized writing and grammar. English. (The language currently undergoing a complete overhaul through the mediums of email and texting.)
I had a teacher my freshman year who gave a grammar test on the use of words every day. “They’re,” “there” and “their.” “You’re” and “your.” They were lessons banged into our heads. And through repetition, every kid got it. Myself included.
Little did I know that 30 years later it would be the foundation of my writing career.
How’s your grammar?
How’s your use of “your” and “you’re”?
How’s your use of “to” and “too”?
Are you aware of how important grammar is when you put your emails, texts, blog posts, Facebook posts and tweets out into the SMS and cyberworld?
My classmates and I sang a chorus of appreciation for the grammar lessons. Although at the time those daily tests and lessons were given, every student complained.
For a moment I flashed on what would be happening in the same situation today. Parents complaining about too many tests. Teachers unions balking about too many papers to grade. Kids texting and protesting about abusive educational practices. And pressure forcing a testing policy to be fair to everyone.
Talking with a friend tonight about the grammar lessons from high school, he said, “Whenever I see a grammar error in the subject line of an email, I delete it without opening it.”
Note well: Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control.
Note well: It’s the little things. It’s the details. Your look, your image, your quiet confidence, your presentation skills, your knowledge of the customer and your writing skills that include your grammar. And salespeople think it’s the big things. Like the price of what you’re selling and your sales techniques.
Your next reunion: Go! Not just to see the people, but also to remember and be grateful for the lessons that shaped your future.
My reunion was an affirmation that I got a great fundamental and foundational education — and then had enough sense to implement the information. I hope you did, and you do, too.