Peterson: Party like it’s 1999 | VailDaily.com

Peterson: Party like it’s 1999

The title for every formal dance at my high school contained the same, lame pun.

There was “A Knight beneath the Stars” or “A Knight Under the Sea” or, worse, “An Arabian Knight.”

So, what to call my 20-year high school reunion in Boulder?

Thinking about those awkward, challenging teenage years had me coming up with titles like “A Knight to Forget,” “Knightmare on Pearl Street” or “Knight of the Living Dead.”

Truth be told, I was miserable for most of high school and couldn’t wait to be done with the whole thing the moment we flipped our tassels and tossed our mortarboards on a warm June day in 1999.

I couldn’t help but feel like I was living a lie the whole time. I was popular, I guess — a jock who hung with the cool kids. But, really, I was a closet nerd who hated the rigid stratification of a high school with more than 2,000 kids.

I’d come home from football practice or lifting weights and find escape in the books and magazines in my room, with the Fugees or Tupac or Biggie pouring out of my boombox speakers.

It took months of cajoling from my parents to get me to join the high school newspaper, a hub for nerds and misfits. And, even then, I tried to conceal it from my friends … until my bylines started showing up in the Royal Banner.

But what’ll everybody think, mom and dad? 

I went to high school with a lot of crazy-smart kids. National Merit Scholars, kids bound for Ivy League schools, Stanford and Duke — and Natalia Toro, who graduated with my class in 1999 after skipping fifth, seventh and eighth grades.

Toro was pretty much the female equivalent of Mitch from the classic ’80s film “Real Genius.” She started taking college-level courses in sixth grade and, at 14, became the youngest winner of the Intel Science Talent Search. She went on to MIT and Harvard and, according to her Wikipedia page, is “known for her pioneering work in the study of dark matter.”

I went to high school with a lot of crazy-athletic kids. Six of the guys I started with on the football team my senior year went on to play at major Division I (now FBS) programs. Three guys from that team got invites to NFL training camps.

And maybe the most talented, Jesse Crain, who quit the football team before our senior year, went on to pitch 10 seasons in the majors, making one All-Star team.

I went to high school with a lot of crazy-talented kids. Ace Young made it all the way to the final seven on the fifth season of “American Idol.” Kenny Harris, who led the team in interceptions my senior year, went on to play guitar for Panic! At The Disco.

But, mostly, I just went to high school with a lot of kids — nearly 500 in my graduating class.

In that crowded aquarium, it was hard to stand out, and there was safety in numbers.

We Fairview Knights, we guarded ourselves in the armor that so defined us: the jocks, the choir kids, the band kids, the theater kids, the goths, the druggies, the brains. It was a John Hughes movie on Ritalin with a soundtrack supplied by Pearl Jam, the Wu-Tang Clan and Dave Matthews.

To go back and relive all that … no way. You couldn’t drag me there from three states away.

But then I moved back to Colorado from Florida. And then I saw some of the names of people who’d RSVP’d and got curious. And then, after reconnecting with some buds who came up to snowboard Vail for a weekend, I was going.

We did the most Boulder thing ever and gathered on a Saturday night at a hipster brewpub and beer garden that had once been an old plumbing supply warehouse.

Then, for the next five hours, we did nothing but laugh and drink and fill in the blanks. It’s a hilarious experience when the first girl you french kissed mentions it to your wife at the bar while you’re waiting for a beer. Or when you meet the husband of the girl you thought you were going to marry in middle school. It sure tugs on your heart when you find out that one of the toughest guys you ever played football with is finally out after years in the closet. 

Twenty years on, all those things that seemed to matter so much back then couldn’t have mattered less now. The cliques, the cars we drove, the clothes we wore, who was dating whom. The only thing that did is that we all made it through it together, somehow. 

One Crazy Knight? For sure. And hardly lame.

Vail Daily Editor Nate Peterson can be reached at npeterson@vaildaily.com.