RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Over a year ago, I got a message from a friend of mine from high school. She was taking it upon herself to plan our 25th reunion in the summer of 2017. And she wanted to know if I could try to come. Many months later, she got back in touch to say that her life had gotten really busy and the reunion wasn't going to happen. I was strangely disappointed with this news. And I say strangely because everybody has angst over these things, right? And I'd never felt pulled to revisit that time. I mean, it was 1992.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU")
WHITNEY HOUSTON: (Singing) And I...
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACHY BREAKY HEART")
BILLY RAY CYRUS: (Singing) Don't tell my heart, my achy break-y heart.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FRIDAY I'M IN LOVE")
THE CURE: (Singing) Thursday never looking back. It's Friday. I'm in love.
MARTIN: Maybe it's just where I'm at in my life. Maybe it's being a parent of young kids. But I have found myself thinking more and more about high school. There was a lot of drama in those years - real and manufactured. A lot of people being what they thought they were supposed to be.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MARTIN: I leave you with these words. Never stop dreaming, for it is a dream which sparks our courage, our determination and, mostly, our desire to go above and beyond.
MARTIN: Pretty profound, right? Yeah, I know. So I actually delivered those words right here at Idaho Falls High School 25 years ago. We're standing outside this building that was actually built in 1952. It has seen a whole lot of graduating classes. And everyone was in the same boat, right? It didn't matter if you were on the student council or you were an athlete or one of the cool kids or not. Everybody is wracked with insecurity.
Over the next few days, we're going to bring you some conversations about the complexities of those years. They happen to be with people I went to high school with. But I am betting you will hear echoes that are familiar to you and may remind you of people who walked through your own high school halls.
ERIC HSU: Hi, is that Rachel?
MARTIN: It's Rachel. (Laughter). How's it going?
(SOUNDBITE OF KINGSLEY FLOOD'S "HABIT")
HSU: Well, it's been really long. I've been good.
MARTIN: Twenty-five years ago, Eric Hsu was our senior class president. Today, he's got a lot going on. He and his wife just had their second child. And he works as a lawyer in Manhattan, which, on the American cultural spectrum, is just about as far away as you can get from Idaho Falls, Idaho. When we were growing up, it was a town of about 50,000 people. The biggest employer is the Idaho National Laboratory, which is one of the Department of Energy's big nuclear facilities.
And that's what brought Eric's parents to Idaho Falls from the Midwest, where they had gone to school. Originally, they're from China, which means Eric and his parents automatically stood out. Idaho Falls is rural, white. Most people are Mormons, members of the LDS Church. Eric was none of those things.
How do you remember high school?
HSU: I have to say that my recollection of high school was, for the most part, very un-traumatized. I felt like I was being a good little student, and then I could hang out. And I had friends. And I - you know, my family was stable. And enough people were nice to me that I felt connected.
MARTIN: Did you ever think of yourself or feel like a racial minority?
HSU: I think about this quite a lot. Yes, I would run into those situations where there's some ignorance or stronger than that. To me, I am, in my thoughts and in my identity, exactly what I'm seeing. And what I'm seeing are this community that's such a monoculture. It's this Caucasian, mainstream. Many of them are LDS. It's this very clean-cut world.
And that's what I am because I'm a mirror of what I see. I am laughing at their jokes, and I want to dress like them. And I am thinking of myself the way I think of them. Now, of course, first of all, I know that that's not true because the great tragedy is they would see some difference. Well, you know, now I also...
MARTIN: Eric and I talked for a while about what it was like to grow up in Idaho Falls.
HSU: No, I didn't date her.
MARTIN: Oh, you didn't?
And who we were back then.
HSU: Orthodontics and corrective vision.
MARTIN: I remember that version of...
I asked him if there was a specific memory of those years that he can't shake. He paused for a few seconds.
HSU: OK, one that stands out. You know, I bow to the fashions in some ways. Like, I remember during some of our school assemblies, like, the cool thing was to do hilarious skits that you wrote. Some of the stuff that we came up with was just horrendously bigoted. Like, you're making fun of the other - whatever, Skyline, across town, High School. And you're just using what we know to be slurs now. When you're, like, talking about the football team that - you know, before the big game.
MARTIN: Like what?
HSU: Well, you know, we would make fun of the Skyline gays. That was like a specific phrase that we would use in front of the entire school in assemblies. Which, you know, I'm horrified to think of that now. I know why that happened. You know, it was funny. It was cool among a certain crowd to say that. And I didn't have the, you know, awareness to know what that meant - what we were doing.
MARTIN: If you could go back and give that person guidance or advice, what do you tell your younger self?
HSU: I would ask myself to not be pandering so much to please just a certain group. I was unconscious. I was thoughtless. I would want to just be compassionate and then - and think for myself a little bit.
MARTIN: Thank you for giving me so much of your time.
(SOUNDBITE OF KINGSLEY FLOOD'S "HABIT")
HSU: Yeah, sure. So let's stay in touch just on other - whatever it is, yeah.
MARTIN: Yeah, that'd be awesome. Take care.
HSU: Thanks, bye.
MARTIN: Eric Hsu, who was the senior class president of my graduating class, class of 1992, at Idaho Falls High School. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.