Watching the opening month of school is noticing the pairing of students into friendships. You do not need many friends in your adolescence but it certainly makes life easier if one has a “best friend.” The person who you can talk honestly to, the person who you know you can always call, the “foul weather” friend for you when things get tough.
I had a best friend all the way through my secondary school who, in retrospect, made a great difference in helping me cope with the pressures and challenges that I, like most of my peers, faced. His name was Randy Milton and he was in many ways the polar opposite to the young me.
If you met Randy Milton, you would have liked him. He was, in my eyes anyway, the most charming student in the school. He literally had a charm that was infectious. I was bookish and shy, while he was very outgoing and not a good student. We would, as teenagers, go to coffee bars to sit and talk over a new kind of drink called a cappuccino. We could afford one each and we would make it stretch out for over an hour. And while I could not talk to people I did not know, Randy would talk to every attractive girl in the place. He had a remarkable gift for what we called “pulling” girls, which meant that he talked them into liking him. I went along for the ride, and since girls usually traveled in pairs (just like us), would often finish up with the girl that Randy was not focusing on.
Randy’s charm would result in us getting invited to parties on a fairly regular basis. From him I learned how to talk to strangers, something that I was too shy to do before. He seemed to have no fear when it came to approaching anyone; a remarkable talent. We were in so many ways a “Mutt and Jeff” act; I studied and he socialized. If “Facebook” had been around, he would have had thousands of “friends.” I would not have had a “Facebook” account. Randy left school at the earliest opportunity (when he was 16) and I went to college as an undergraduate and post graduate. Yet we met frequently, even after Randy left High School, and were close friends until distance literally separated us when I left London for Oxford. Randy, by then, had a job with the 3M Company traveling around Europe as one of their top salesmen in industrial adhesive tape. When I married Jayme in Connecticut in 1968 in a very small wedding, Randy was my only friend there from England.
Tragically, Randy died in a road accident in Paris while Jayme and I were in Mexico for our first holiday since we opened York Prep. It was the Christmas of 1969, and when we returned in January, one of Randy’s former girlfriends (of whom there were many) told us of his death and of his funeral that had taken place while we were away.
I suppose my point is that it really helps to have one close friend in High School. Not a host of friends but certainly one. I learned from Randy that what is now called emotional intelligence, the ability to read social cues and project an attractive personality, is as important as bookish intelligence. I learned that shyness can be handled, and I learned the value of friendship. So, early on in this new school year, as our students make new friends, I find that I still miss Randy.
Ronald P. Stewart
York Prep School