Twenty-one years ago, I was a City College Knight. City College, or the Castle on the Hill as it is still known, was a high school in which Latin was everyone's second language and Thanksgiving was more about the annual City-Poly football game than eating turkey and cranberry sauce.
For some of my classmates, these years in high school included such happy milestones as the prom, the big homecoming games and graduation.
For me, on the other hand, high school was a series of unrequited loves, being a wallflower at school dances, being picked on by a bully and countless hours doing of all things ... studying!
I was somewhat of a social misfit and a geek.
In hopes of gaining acceptance from the in crowd, I put myself in situations that screamed, "Like me, accept me, and for God's sake, date me!"
I tried out for and became the first "affirmative-action" geek to make the cheerleading squad. I thought this would help me become socially accepted, but despite my best efforts, I remained dateless.
My high school experience, needless to say, had been less than stellar.
So when my 20-year reunion came last fall, I was ready to show my classmates I was a different person. I wanted revenge.
And I dressed for the occasion.
I wore an outfit that whispered, "I'm stylish, secure, sexy and successful."
As I strutted into the lobby of the downtown Sheraton Hotel for my reunion, it was as if Miss Diana Ross herself was serenading me to the tune of "I'm Coming Out."
As I reached the registration table, one of my classmates greeted me with a resounding "Sonja!? Girl, you look great!"
As I greeted old friends and acquaintances just as exuberantly, I kept thinking, OK, so far so good. Now if only someone would just ask me what I had been doing for the past 20 years, I would recite my carefully memorized biography of accomplishments.
I would talk about my degrees, my successful career, my volunteer work, my recognitions and certifications. I was going to mention it all.
Before I could do so, however, I caught the eye of a person I had not seen since 1985. A young man whose sole purpose in high school was to make me miserable. Everyone had been marveling all night about the apparent changes this guy, who in high school bullied me, had made.
It seems that after a career in the military, this guy, who struck fear in me as a teenager, had discovered God and was now a minister.
Not one to be so easily convinced, I made my way over to my old nemesis and before I could lose my nerve, I looked him in the eye and told him, "You know I really hated you in high school." Feeling empowered now, I continued, "You were a mean kid, and you were mean to me. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate you now, but I have been waiting 20 years to tell you that."
What happened next truly amazed me.
With a look of remorse on his face, he told me that he agreed with my assessment of who he was, and he apologized.
And just like that, all the hurt and pain of our high school years just fell away ... from both of us. What would have been impossible for me to do 20 years ago, came to me like it was second nature. I forgave him.
I thanked him, and we hugged. Twenty years on a shrink's couch would not have given me what that hug and apology did. As the evening progressed, I found myself reminiscing about the good times I had forgotten had actually existed.
The parties and good-natured mischief all came flooding back. Throughout the night, my former classmates and I marveled at how well-preserved we all appeared, and we mourned the loss of two classmates and several beloved teachers.
It was at one of those reflective moments when one of my classmates asked me, "So, Sonja, what have you been up to?" I stopped for a heartbeat, took a deep breath and said, "Oh, you know, just working hard ... and you?"
What started out as a night for vindication and validation turned into something so much more. I realized that those experiences in high school, the good and the bad, helped shape us into the adults we are today.
Sonja Crosby, 39, is a native of Baltimore. Last year, she was named by the Baltimore Business Journal as one of 40 outstanding professionals younger than 40, honored for their business success and community contributions. She is a human-resources manager at the Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union.