Tom Brokaw is the Walter Cronkite of my generation.  Peter Jennings seemed too polished, Dan Rather always tried too hard, and Jim Lehrer – well he was on PBS. But Tom Brokaw made you stop and listen, he broke the news that was hard to hear and yet somehow at the same time made you feel like it was going to be okay.  I grew up in St. Johns, Michigan and graduated from high school in 1999, the last class of the century as we liked to say then.  I knew fairly early that I would leave Michigan, though I’m not sure if I could tell you why.  When I came back from Northwestern for the first time, it felt as if I had been away for years.  I suppose college in some sense forces you to confront your adult self for the first time, and in coming home I saw both who I was and who I was becoming.

December 31st, 1999 / We all thought the world might end / We were just 18

New Year’s Eve 1999.  Y2K.  The world was going to end, according to the tabloids at the supermarket.  Or at least all of the computers on the planet were going to crash, and with it all of our electronic appliances.  Of course the delineation of 2000 was a bit arbitrary.  In the Jewish calendar we were in 5760, and according to the Chinese it was 4696. Nevertheless, I remember thinking somewhat irrationally that well, maybe the world might actually end tonight.  At least I was among friends: Chad Rehmann and I were in a rock band together.  Jake Parker was the quarterback of the football team.  Kari Wieber was an artist who always drew in pencil and Krista Mohr had this fantastic laugh.  John Whitlock (along with the entire varsity soccer team) bleached his hair bright blonde.  Alana Rudy played the flute, and Pat Holt always had a piece of gum after lunch if you needed one.

(John Whitlock, Kari Weiber and I at our high school graduation in 1999)

The details of that evening elude me somewhat.  I know we were at a cottage on Higgins Lake, but I couldn’t tell you exactly who all was there.  What I do remember is watching Tom Brokaw on NBC, and the live footage as each time zone around the world changed millennia.  I remember playing Twister.  I remember having Jello shots (a bit of a surprise, as none of us really drank in high school).  I remember spending the night on the floor in a sleeping bag, and then driving home the next morning.  New Year’s Eve 1999 was the last time I hung out with those friends from high school all together.  Now I’ve of course seen several of them individually, but a few of them I haven’t seen since that night.  People have married or divorced, had children or joined the priesthood, moved to New York or gone on to teach at the high school from which we graduated.  Tom Brokaw told us that night that we’d be fine, that the world wouldn’t end.  But it did change.

Click the link below to hear the portrait I’ve written of my friends who (as far as I can remember) were there that night.  The song is called “Right Foot to Red Circle.”

Right Foot to Red Circle (mp3) by Matthew Carlson

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