Ten years ago, when this country was celebrating its 200th birthday, Lake Braddock Secondary School in Fairfax County was celebrating the graduation of its first class, my class, the class of 1976.

Two weeks ago more than 200 members of that 580-member class met for our 10-year reunion. Classmates came from as far away as Texas, Oregon and California filled with excitement, anticipation and a little dread to see where everyone was coming from and where everyone was heading.

Memories abounded. It all fell into place as we partied, danced and compared notes. We were here to see and be seen and find out just what had happened to all our friends. Did they fulfill their ambitions or had they changed tracks in those post-high-school years?

Two high school friends with whom I had kept in touch over the years, Hank Corscadden and Marcia Hess, were there that evening. Hank had been in the Navy as a pilot after graduating from college and is now attending law school in Oregon. Marcia had moved from the area after college but is back, working as business systems analyst.

I was surprised both at how everyone had changed and at how so many things had remained the same. Former classmates Noreen O'Kane and Karen Hull and I couldn't get over how great everyone looked.

Karen and Noreen and I had worked together on the high school's newspaper, "The Bear Facts." Karen is still involved in journalism, lives in Boston and has written a book that will be published in September. Noreen is a physical therapist at George Washington University Hospital, where one of her patients has been James Brady, President Reagan's press secretary.

Robbie Simmons, Jim Klein and I reminisced about the days leading up to our graduation and the days after. Jim, who had been on the high school football team, works for an accounting firm in Washington. Robbie and Chuck Wedel, our senior class president, who did a lot of the planning for the reunion, had been two of the printers of the paper. Robbie is still involved in printing, now with a government agency. Chuck married the senior class secretary, Kim Holt, after college, and they are raising a family.

The times then were great -- school was over for the summer and our only concerns were heading off to college or work, cars and, of course, the opposite sex. Now, as it should be, we had greater concerns -- relationships, marriages, failed marriages, careers and children.

As I spoke with former social studies teacher Sharon Levin and journalism teacher Patrick McCarthy that night, I discovered that most of our teachers had been the age that we are now, or younger, when they were our teachers.

John Alwood, principal of Lake Braddock since its opening, said the class of 1976 was in a unique position: we were "top dogs" for three years because we were the school's first class and there were no upper classmen. We all had come from different schools our sophomore year.

But we united to set an example for future classes to follow, he said. Alwood received a plaque from the class in recognition of his retirement from Lake Braddock. He will be going back to teaching at the new Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. As a fitting touch to the evening, Leslie Grey, who sang "Forever Young" at our baccalaureate ceremony 10 years ago, again sang for us that evening.

Lake Braddock was one of the first schools in the area to use the open-classroom system, an innovative concept in education that used modular units instead of walled classrooms to allow more flexibility in instruction. Teachers -- carefully chosen and recruited for the new method -- students and parents united behind the new school, and it opened in the year 1973 saw the opening of this new school with much enthusiasm and spirit. (Open classrooms later lost popularity, and many of Lake Braddock's are now traditional classrooms.)

In those three short years before graduation, we accomplished a great deal. A cohesive student body was built around an excellent curriculum and other elements that pull a school together -- among them dramatic productions; a school newspaper; football, field hockey, tennis and track teams, and booster clubs.

The class of 1976 pioneers set the pace and standards for the graduates to come. They wanted to make their school one of the best.

As for the next 10 years, I'm already looking forward to a 20-year reunion but at the same time I'm remembering, as the theme for our Senior Prom said, "We'll Never Pass This Way Again."