“Friends come and go”: Alums visit their alma mater

“Friends come and go”: Alums visit their alma mater

Erica Jiang , Staff Writer

You’ve seen them: wandering the halls, gray visitor tag adorned, looking older but not exactly wiser. The year after they graduate, many alums come back to the school to visit teachers, friends, and the place they grew up in. Here is what it’s like to be on campus — from the other side of high school.

What did it feel like when you first stepped foot onto campus? 

Sunshine Quinones ‘22: When I first arrived during break, I went to Olshan Lobby to check in as a visitor, which was very crowded because everyone was getting snack. I was thrown back into the routine of Horace Mann and honestly, the biggest feeling I felt was anxiety. It was like nothing had changed and I was a student again.

Liliana Greyf ‘22: It felt a little dream-like, like I was in a mirage. I spent a lot of time last semester thinking about the school and my time there, so the image of the actual place became not super real to me. The whole day went on as I remembered, with A through H periods and the cafeteria and other things still happening, but I felt a little bit outside of them. School continued but I was only visiting rather than being a part of it.

Alex Nagin ‘22: I was a little nervous — mostly from the fact that in college, I shaved off all my facial hair and now I have a mustache. I just knew all my teachers were gonna say something about it, which was pretty funny because it has nothing to do with school, but that’s what I was most nervous about.

Hanna Hornfeld ‘22: I walked into campus and I instinctively started walking in the direction of the math office. When I realized that was happening, it felt nice because it felt like I was back at home – an old home that I’m not necessarily a part of anymore, but it still felt right, being there. 

What made you want to come back? How long did it take for you to make up your mind and what pros or cons did you weigh in the process? 

AJ Walker ‘22: During my breaks earlier this year, in October and over Thanksgiving, I questioned whether I wanted to visit. The more I thought about how different life is for me at college right now, the more I thought the two lives at once were a lot, so I didn’t know if I wanted to go back to that place yet as I’m still adjusting to my new life. But I knew that over winter break, I was going to try to visit because I still wanted to see my teachers and some of the underclassmen.

Jaden Richards ‘21: I visited twice last year, but this year I happened to run into my college counselor and he asked me to come back and visit again. In my second year out, I assumed that people were tired of seeing me, so I had to ask myself, would I be getting in the way, or am I too old for it? But ultimately, I decided that even if it wasn’t very long, it’d be worth it to come back and just say hi.

Were there any specific, physical spaces that triggered feelings of nostalgia?

Jaden: Thinking about all of my visits, when I go to something like the senior study room in the library, which seemed like a really big deal when I finally got access to it, seeing someone else in there is a weird thing; you see the places where you made really good memories in just move on with different people.

Hanna: I spent probably a solid 90% of my senior year in the library, sitting with my feet up on the right hand side behind the circulation desk, by the window sills. I would eat lunch there, hang out with my friends, or do work, so that became a spot that I really associate with my senior year. So when I walked into the library, I got hit by a wave of nostalgia. I spent so much time with my friends there and just going through it – writing, reading papers, and editing Record articles. That one place really encapsulates most of the feelings that I went through in my senior year.

What was it like reconnecting with the teachers? Did you feel a shift in your relationship? 

Sunshine: It did feel a bit different because when they’re still your teacher, you feel more reserved about opening up about your feelings. Coming back, I was more willing to be honest about how I was dealing with college and also how my experience was at Horace Mann.

Hanna: Yes and no. Fundamentally, I still look up to them as authority and mentor figures who are older than me and more experienced. In that sense I think the teacher-student relationship is still there, but just minus whatever stress you might feel because they’re the person giving a horrible test next week or who is grading your next paper.

How has your perspective on the school changed now that you’ve had time away from it? Is there anything that seems strange now that you accepted before?

AJ: A lot of my feelings about the school were the same and just came back. But I will say, the one thing that I now realize being away from it is that school was just such a big thing in my mind. Now that I’m not there, I’m realizing how much time I spent stressing about things that in the big picture did not matter as much. So there has been a lot of reflecting about how I spent my time there but I don’t know if there is anything I could have done differently to make me less stressed or made the day to day easier. 

Alex: Everyone looks kind of sad and stressed out, for the most part. While I was there, I also felt very stressed. At the same time, I’m thankful for the challenging nature of the school because it’s allowed me to enjoy college so much more. I have a lot of friends, especially in Ireland where the education system is different, who have never even heard of what Chicago citations are before and they’re trying to do them all by hand, while I still have my NoodleTools account that I can easily log into. Going through all of that in high school has made college a breeze.

What surprised you about coming back and inhabiting an outside perspective?

AJ: I mean first, the college counseling office not being in the middle school but being an entire house was insane – I’m a little jealous. But other than that, everything else was scarily exactly how I remember it. Something my friends and I have been thinking about a lot since leaving is, was it worth it? All the stress we were under and all of the things we felt like we had to worry about every day? But I feel like after visiting, I can appreciate everything the school has done to help me get to where I am.

Liliana: It was really surprising how few students I recognized because I’ve always thought of HM as a place where I recognize everyone. It was also shocking to see other people in positions that I used to be in physically, like in the classrooms where I used to learn, or in the StuPub with the Emilys there, seeing them planning for The Record. That was really fun for me, to watch other people take on the roles that I used to have, and reminisce about what that used to look like for me and the new generation of students that are now doing that. 

What do you think of the unspoken rule that alums can only return once and only the year after they graduate?

AJ: For some people, and even me, going back is a way to prove, not only to everyone else, but to yourself that you’ve evolved and you’ve made it out of Horace Mann. I think going back once is enough to do that. That being said, there is value in visiting multiple times because there are teachers who still want to see you — I think the more distance you get from the place the easier it becomes to go back and realize the good times that you’ve had there. 

Liliana: I’ve been thinking about that a lot. As I was leaving school on that day, I was struck with the realization that it very well could be my last time there, at least for a very long time. And in some ways, that’s really cathartic to me — I get to have this sort of closure, having really finished off everything that’s expected of me at Horace Mann. But I also think that is, as you said, unspoken, and just created by this idea that once high school is over, you need to let go of it.