We are affiliated with or were affiliated with various communities. Some are important and some less so. In some we ended up without having a choice and in others we belong with complete devotion. Usually the most important communities are with the person or persons with whom we share good and bad, live in the same space, or are related by blood. In such communities, love, cooperation, communication, helping and caring for each other enable optimal functioning. Sometimes it is necessary to have a leader who makes important decisions and directives and sometimes the community is constituted in a democratic way where decisions and problems are made and resolved through discussion and mutual respect and listening.
My high school community was initiated by the action of Zivoslav Miloradovic through a website. He has launched many other activities aimed at gathering, growing and enriching a group of people who attended the high school “Uros Predic” in Pancevo in 1969-73. I joined that commune 10 years ago when, driven by an internal need I “discovered” the site of our generation that Zivoslav had started off a few years earlier. That happened on Monday, July 11, 2011. I was at work and during a break I googled high school graduates in Pancevo, but I did not get access to the site (blocked by IT of my work organization). When I got home, I started the search again and with great excitement discovered the “treasure” of our 102nd high school generation.
With youthful zeal, I threw myself into getting to know everything that was posted and sent an e-mail to Milijana Stojanovic because Zivoslav’s address entered on the site did not work. She answered immediately. She was glad I contacted her. During our high school days, we were neighbors and occasionally hung out and visited each other. She also contributed to the development of the site with pictures and information. At the end of her message, she asked, “Is your search nostalgic or are we getting old?” My answer followed, “As for the search, it is probably nostalgia and curiosity towards self and others. I am professionally interested in the human psyche. I intensely experienced the high school years when various intellectual and interpersonal needs had developed. I often think about the fragments of memory related to these years.”
Immediately after that, I established correspondence with Zivoslav. He wrote about the reasons for starting the site: “I felt an urge to do something like that and I have been trying to keep it alive for several years now. I feel it as a personal debt, so I don’t ask for help from anyone except those who feel called to help me somehow. If I were where we are from, it would be much better and much more meaningful, but I have been living in Italy for 16 years and I got all the data I have collected so far online.” As for the question of how I can contribute to the site, he answered: “What would interest me more than anything and what would be the real value of this site, not only for us but for a wider audience are memories; memories in writing of someone or something that happened to us at that time. Descriptions of people, friendships, joint adventures, memories of professors, going out, excursions. Well, if you could muster the strength to help me that way, you would do a really great thing. And one more thing: I think I will run this site as long as I live. Therefore, there is no time limit, but it should be said that it would be foolish to wait for the first contribution until our eventual retirement. Therefore, if you think that I have done something that is worthy of attention, you can help me to make what was started even more valuable and richer.”
That’s what I did. I sent “tons” of photos from the high school years, and then I grabbed a pen and wrote, as best I could, memories of those days. I connected with several high school friends who had email addresses and Facebook profiles. Correspondence was established and continued sometimes more and sometimes less but never stopped. Belonging to this community has become important as if I was reclaiming the first part of my life I left behind after I emigrated to America. When I traveled to Serbia, I met several friends in person. I deepened my connections with some and not with others. All this has enriched my life and I believe the lives of those with whom I interacted in this way. Zivoslav continued to enhance the site with the support of others. There were new contributions, writers, photographs, etc. I will forever be indebted to him for the monograph of the high school “Uros Predic” published in 2008 in honor of the 140th anniversary of its founding, which he sent me in October 2011.
Shortly after establishing association with Zivoslav, he started a Facebook group (November 12, 2011) which grew to number 94 in ten years period. It is a closed group and Zivoslav appointed me as an administrator with all the rights and duties required by that role. I did not ask for it, nor did I use it, except to accept requests for new members. From the beginning, I have been an active member of the group, which helped me to develop a sense of community that gradually deepened and expanded. Although it is the minority who regularly engage in comments and other contributions, it is still enough to create a sense of belonging and connection, importance, emotional security, and fulfillment of the need to communicate with people with whom I share a precious part of the past.
Belonging to virtual communities is different from gatherings in person. Virtuality is an inevitability and a blessing that allows me and many others to connect, hear and see each other, exchange thoughts, and experience a sense of closeness despite the geographical distance. In order for such a group to grow and develop, frequent and honest communications are necessary to help build a common intention, inclination, need, and sense of security. Each member contributes to the cohesiveness through participation. The exchange of thoughts and feelings is important, but it should reflect things that will benefit everyone. Sharing is risky because it involves vulnerability. Yet I believe that we are in an age in which we have experienced and learned enough so that compassion and understanding prevails. I am convinced that the opinions expressed are related to good intentions. I would like to encourage others to do what I do by writing from a personal perspective. I hope I serve as a positive role model by sharing what I think and feel because I do it with sincerity and for the benefit of others.