Life arcs, social gravity

I'm leaving this friends-locked on domesticat because anything else will cause it to syndicate openly, especially to Facebook, where a lot of people who knew me in high school have found me.  This is both good and bad.  It has served to answer the question "What have you done since high school?" with "Oh.  THAT's what you've done since high school."

It's provided unexpected closure. I can look back now and recognize that changing my actions would have done little, if anything, to change the outcome.

Since my high school classmates started finding Facebook I've had a quiet little research experiment going on. I've been keeping an eye on the four classes I knew best, to see who, if anyone, left the central Arkansas area where we all grew up.

The four classes were:

  • 1993, the class before I graduated
  • 1994, the class I graduated in
  • 1995, the class I started out in
  • 1996, the class below the one I started out in

The class of 1994 graduated 33 students, which was typical for my high school at the time. That implies a pool of around 120 people.  Of those people, I have identified a total of five, counting myself, whom I know left. One from each grade, and another who would have been in my class but opted to graduate early. What makes this statistic a little more sad is when I tell you that of those five, I know three were valedictorians. The fourth was either valedictorian or salutatorian. The fifth would've been salutatorian if she'd stayed.  The breakdown:

  • 1993, valedictorian, a doctor in Texas
  • 1994, valedictorian, a webmaster geek in Alabama (hi!)
  • 1995, valedictorian, a doctor in Minnesota
  • 1996, valedictorian or salutatorian, a programmer in metro Washington DC

In years since, I had heard southern, relatively poor states like Arkansas discussing the concept of 'brain drain,' but I'd never seen it put in terms so stark. The community I'm from, through lack of opportunity, hospitality, or interest, waved goodbye to its best and brightest for several years running. I'd be curious to know if the trend started earlier, or if it continued after 1996.

I leave you with this image. Clicking the image leads to a larger version, or you can visit the friends-locked original on flickr:


A co-worker sent me this interesting Pew Research Center piece on "sticky" and "magnet" states.  Arkansas is surprisingly average in its retention of its natives.  (Of course, this does not speak to the respective abilities and general usefulness of those who stayed and those who left.  Like you, I suspect those who had the ability got the hell out and never looked back.)