Somehow, the alumni department caught up with me, though, and this past Tuesday night I found myself standing around at a cocktail party for Otis alumni who had ‘emigrated’ to New York. Otis has apparently grown to something like 1,200 students, but even so an outreach program to this coast strikes me as impressive and uncharacteristically on-the-ball. The school has never been great about fostering community — suffice it to say I never expect the kind of alumni network that might evolve around Ivy League graduate populations to form around my fellow Otis graduates. Still, I had a few glasses of wine and talked to a few people that I vaguely remembered and found myself, surprisingly, having a way better time than I expected.
At least a part of that enjoyment, I realized, was borne from our common experience attending school in a categorically horrific section of Los Angeles, one riddled with violence, drugs and wayward souls. The school has since relocated to a safer part of the L.A. area, and among my newly rediscovered compatriots we all agreed that, though we wish only safety and harmony for today’s students, it seemed impossible to really feel like we attended the same school as they do. To us, Otis will always be, at least in some small way, an episode of frighteningly tenuous social context, with a soundtrack pock-marked with frequent outbursts of handgun shots and police helicopters hovering at night. Perhaps I’m prouder of that than I should be, because I was able to graduate and leave for good, while most of the people who lived in that neighborhood had no such choice. But it’s a meaningful part of my past to me nevertheless; I’m glad Otis caught up with me again to remind me of it.