This year has been a tsunami of anniversaries for me. (Not to mention it was Susie’s 60th birthday last week.) Let’s see…
The “largest number” anniversary is 40. It was 40 years ago last April that I graduated from the American School of Manila after attending it K-12. My class was the Golden Class: the 50th graduating class of the school (founded in 1920) and the last graduating class before the school changed its name to International School to reflect a more diverse student population.
Just under 100 of us graduated that April and are now scattered throughout the U.S. and world. At the time, I had mixed emotions. I very much looked forward to leaving what had become a confining environment but I was also ambivalent about leaving a comfortable lifestyle and my friends. In those pre-Internet days, I consigned myself to gradually losing touch with my friends.
But 40 years later, through regular reunions (and in other ways) I’m still enjoying those friends, as well as new ones that I never even knew while in school. Through those reunions I have more friends from Manila now than I had when I lived there. That bond is incomprehensible to anyone who did not live there because it is based on a shared experience that transcends verbal explanation.
This year is also the 40th anniversary of my arrival in the U.S. I had never seen an Interstate. I had never seen a mall. I’d never seen…so many Americans. 😉
Although college was an intellectual “big boom,” I found myself among a somewhat narrow group: overwhelmingly white and mostly southern. I know that’s why when my assigned roommate didn’t show up, and I had to either pick another “orphan” freshman as a roommate or be stuck with whoever the college selected, I decided to room with a black student from the Orlando area whose acquaintance I made when he invited me to join him in a game of pool as I watched him at the Student Union. We were both “different” from most other freshmen, so it made sense to room together.
That first month of college, I was the object of a lot of curiosity, which I played upon. Folks would ask what the Philippines was like: did I have electricity and running water? What did I eat? I was among very bright folks, most with SATs at or over 1500 and with 4.0+ high school GPAs. But their knowledge of the world was lacking.
I’d tell them that I lived in a remote region, where my father was a tribal leader. We lived in primitive wood shacks with no electricity or running water and had to catch our meal each day. Sometimes when we couldn’t catch anything, we’d have to eat one of our communal dogs, which we bred for that purpose. I was attending this Presbyterian college thanks to Presbyterian missionaries helping our tribe who saw to it that I could come to college so that I could lead my people to a better way of life.
About half of them bought that story before I broke out laughing and told them the truth: I went to a private college prep school, belonged to a private club, had servants, etc. Since about 85% of the students were on financial aid, which I did not qualify for, they seemed more interested in the way I really lived…servants? private club? gated subdivision with private armed security? Tell us more!
But in a way, I did, and still, belong to a “tribe”…
Although I’ve been a U.S. citizen since birth because my father was American, I’ve never felt I’ve been an “American” culturally. How can I? I grew up in an Asian country with a strong Spanish influence.
Forty years in the U.S. has not eroded the effects of that experience. Which is why I have little trepidation about retiring to Costa Rica, which like the Philippines is a Third World country. And why I feel most comfortable when I’m with my high school friends, who are part of my “tribe.” I still feel I am a “foreigner” in the U.S.; citizenship is only a legal status, not a psychological one.
It was 35 years ago in May that I began my first “professional” job. It was with the City of St. Petersburg, where I had gone to college. I left after two and a half years to get a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Florida (my first experience with a public educational institution, and I was not impressed when one of my MA classmates with a UF undergraduate degree in Political Science did not know what “nepotism“ was.)
When I left that job with the city’s Grants Department (getting them, not giving them), I had no idea that except for a two and a half-year stint as a county budget coordinator, my professional life would be on the “other side” of grants – as the grantor agency’s project manager ensuring that the funds were spent appropriately.
Which leads into…
Last Thursday, I retired after 30 years employment with Florida Retirement System agencies. When I graduated college, the idea of retirement was in the unfathomable future. But that future is now here. I’m still somewhat dazed…
Most of that time (17 years) has been with one agency and in one job. I turned down at least three offers to become the program’s first line supervisor because the relatively small pay increase wasn’t worth it to me considering all the “benefits” (travel, comp time, etc.) I’d lose, and the hassles I knew I’d be dealing with from being a first line supervisor for ten years in the job I came from.
I know folks who “hate” their jobs. Fortunately, I’ve always been in jobs that I liked. The only job I was ambivalent about was when I worked for two and a half years as a county budget coordinator. At one level it provided a lot of ego satisfaction because I worked for the County Manager and I had some influence. Department heads returned my calls quickly. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure what I had “accomplished” beyond moving a lot of paper and rearranging numbers on paper. (In the military, I’d be what the front line troops call a REMF- Rear Echelon Mother F….r.)
Since that job, I’ve made sure my succeeding jobs provide “something to show” for my efforts. And my current job has provided me lots of that, which I’m not sure would be the case if I had become a first line supervisor.
When Susie and I are traveling on vacation in Florida, I can often point to something that I helped bring about. Such as:
The $50 million Family Dollar distribution center on I-10 in Marianna which brought 400 jobs to the area. One exit from that is the world’s largest wood pellet production plant (owned by a Swedish company whose founder was a pioneer in North Sea oil drilling and who now believes oil has no future) which brought another $50 million to the county’s tax base but which exports every wood pellet to Europe to reduce CO2 coal plant emissions by 20% since the U.S. did not sign the Kyoto Protocols.
In Orlando, just down from International Drive, is the $100+ million Sand Lake Road sewer treatment plant, at the time one of the largest “reuse” plants in the state. Also, the first sewer plant in Key West, ending the dumping of raw sewage into the ocean.
Friday, I returned to my office and my job but in a new status: deferred retirement program, which will last up to five years but which I plan on ending after three years. Each month, I’ll receive my usual “job” paycheck.
I’ll also have a retirement check deposited into an account I cannot access until I leave the job. I pay no taxes on that retirement income until I receive it and it earns six percent interest each year until then. When I leave, I’ll roll it all into my deferred compensation account so I postpone taxes until I withdraw from that account.
While work is a part of life, it is not life. And this year has a significant “life” anniversary which is easily the most important one even if it is not yet the “largest number” anniversary, which it will be one day….
The anniversary I appreciate most is that Susie and I will have been together for 25 years soon. I still remember our first date, in November of 1985. We went to dinner at a “better” (no buffet) Chinese restaurant which is still in the same location. Then, we went to the mall where we had dessert at a chocolate store and I introduced her to white chocolate. Less than two months later, we were living together. Last March was our 15th wedding anniversary. (Yes, we lived together for 10 years before getting married.)
There are some other anniversaries of the 10 and 5 year variety, but after these “big” ones I don’t see any point in describing them. And you’ve been reading too long….