Both Alex and I had somewhat unconventional schooling, growing up. I had my many, many moves and eleven schools and Alex was perpetually jumped ahead a couple of grades and then for high school, attended a very small private school, set in a castle-like building atop rolling hills of central Maine. At Oak Grove Coburn, Alex attended as a day student, since his family lived locally (his older sister also attended the school).
Alex on the school roof in 1989
At the time that he was a student, in the late 1980s, there were only a hundred students enrolled and the school was facing closure with such low attendance. In fact, Alex graduated in the last year that the school was open. Oak Grove Coburn's long history as a school (founded in 1849 by The Society of Friends as a school for girls) was coming to an end. For this reason, Oak Grove Coburn, left indelible memories of a special time and place for its former students.
Because of such small numbers of alumni, reunions over the two decades since its closure have been for all class years. The building and campus was purchased by the state of Maine in 1990 and after undergoing a complete, accurate and largely intact restoration, serves as the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. Last weekend, generations of alumni from all over the world attended a very special reunion, held at the former school. The academy very generously allowed access to the campus and building for tours and a luncheon.
As we walked with Alex and he pointed out his old classrooms, I saw the same looks on other alumni faces, overcome with the nostalgia and the rush of shadowed memories made clear by being in that magical place that helped shape them into the people they are today. If we're lucky, we all have that time and place that leaves its own imprint in our human make-up, that provides knowledge about ourselves and forever links us to others who understand just what you remember.
Oak Grove Coburn is that place for Alex and for others. Because the school had closed so abruptly and was then off-limits for so many years after, this reunion felt like closure to many. It reassured the alumni that the building was well cared for, they walked the halls once more, found old stair wells and peered out its windows. The former students gathered and mourned for students and staff who had died and shook hands and gave bear hugs to old friends. For those of us who did not attend the school, it was evident what this reunion meant to its former students. They'll forever be linked by the brick castle on the hill and they time they spent there.