If you had asked Vincent O'Keefe 10 years ago whether he could imagine himself becoming a full-time dad in suburban Cleveland, he probably would have laughed.
He had been on the fast track to an academic career, a doctorate under his belt, teaching at the University of Michigan. Then, his wife gave birth to their oldest daughter, and O'Keefe joined the daddy track.
"I have kind of redefined success," he said. "It certainly wasn't how I planned things out in high school."
Four other top graduates from the Class of '87 also have navigated the opportunities, challenges and curveballs life threw at them as they plotted their futures against the backdrop of Western New York's economic decline.
All of their paths would be different. None would lead home.
One of the graduates would land in the city he never wanted to call home, only to embrace it; one would head to the region she dreamed of, only to find it wasn't all palm trees and sunny skies.
Another would devote himself to developing downtown -- in another city, 2,000 miles away.
And one would save her baby's life.
SUNDAY: "It was 20 years ago ..." They were high school high-achievers when they graduated in 1987, at a time the region's slow, steady decline was under way. Some made a life in Western New York, but many more built their lives far from home.
TODAY: Five who stayed Family and familiarity were the reasons they decided not to find out whether the grass was greener somewhere else, even if that meant not moving any farther than down the street.
TUESDAY: Five who left The decision to move away did not come easily for any of them, and they all maintain connections to the area. Home for them is nowhere near their hometown. But it's hard to argue with success.
ON THE WEB: www.buffalonews.com/best
*Blog: Why do some people stay in Western New York -- or return after being away? Are family ties more important than career opportunities? Share your own story.
*Then and now: They were fresh-faced teenagers in their yearbook photos 20 years ago. A lot has changed for all of them since then.
*Slide shows: Daily life includes everything from officiating at a floor hockey game to brokering international business deals. See pictures of the five who stayed and hear them talk about their decisions.