Does your stomach start to churn at the mention of attending your high school reunion? Maybe high school was your ‘best of days’ and everything since has seemed like a downward slide. Perhaps those four years were simply the springboard for a better you and once gone, you’ve rarely looked back.
If you’ve got a high school reunion on the horizon, it can be hard to think about returning to the scene of the crimes – either committed by you or committed ON you. But looking back from a distance can provide a very different perspective. Before you RSVP your regrets, I’ve got two cents to share.
I recently attended my (gulp) 40th high school reunion in upstate New York. This week I checked back with some fellow classmates about their experience.
When Michael told people he had attended his high school reunion, he learned that not many had attended their reunions. Some said that there was no one they wanted to see or that it wasn’t a good time in their life so there was no need to revisit it. Ed observed that if people were still struggling, they didn’t bother to attend. They didn’t want to feel like they still didn’t measure up. Deb was surprised that classmates remembered people’s names (without checking the small print and photos on the name tags)!
This was not my first reunion: I go every 10 years.
At 28 most of us were barely out of the house. Some were still in college or post college professional preparation and a few were figuring it out a class or a semester at a time. Many still lived in town. A few had married and a few had children. One or two had died and many just didn’t attend. We didn’t look or sound all that different. Everyone still sat with, came with, or talked to the people they had sat with, came with, and talked to in high school.
At 38, those who attended wanted to show what they had done so far. Conversations were about where people lived, what they did, how they looked, and what they owned. A few more had died, many more were married, many had children, and a few were divorced. Some came back to show how much better things were for them now and some were eager to relive their fading past.
At 48 many of us seemed interested in how we stacked up. Kids were often talked about like another line on the resume of accomplishments. There were a few more divorces, a few more marriages, and a few more deaths.
And at the 40th we walked into a place filled with people who knew us when we were young and foolish and had everything still ahead of us. We asked about each others parents with a genuine fondness; many of whom we remember and the majority of whom have passed away. We were nicer and kinder at this reunion, perhaps because we know that we are on the downside now, not middle aged (unless someone thinks we will live to be 116).
Over a dozen of our classmates have died and by the next reunion there will be less of us on the planet – less of that finite group of people who knew our ‘high school names (It might be the only place on earth where I am still and forever Joni Titlebaum),’ and still see the girls and boys within the women and men we are today. These are the people who were our first kiss, cheered when we got our driver’s license, and came over to our house when our heart was broken. Linda told me she thought that even if it was only for the few hours we were all together, people were ‘menshy.‘
Ed noted that at previous reunions he overheard people talk about drinking and dating but at this one people talked about medications they were taking, joints that ached, and what medical specialist they were seeing. Susan was amazed that no one was too cool anymore (or else we were all cool) but that she didn’t care enough to give that any thought. And both Bonnie and Michael noted that while people in high school might have been labeled as jocks, thespians, cheerleaders, nerds, hoods, student council geeks, popular or jerks – no one is now on an athletic team, starring in the spring musical, smoking behind the school, or running for class president and homecoming queen anymore.
Magically, we started the evening as 58 year olds and left at the end of the night as 17 year olds!
What I came away with:
• Impressing people doesn’t satisfy.
• Adolescents are insecure, self-focused, and uncertain (no matter how it looks to other adolescents).
• This world can be a good place if you are patient.
• As time goes on, there will be less of us around to share the memories. While we can’t be young again, we can share memories of that time with other people who remember it too.
• If you’ve left the town where you went to high school (and even if you haven’t) these people are entwined in your roots.
• And perhaps most important – we should be nice to one another. It makes a difference.
While I know that my experience is unique to me, I’m betting that there is some universality to the reunion experience as well. Let me know if you attended your high school reunion and what you learned about yourself and about others. Were there surprises?
Next time, maybe we’ll have more time to connect. And maybe the photo name tags and the print will be bigger!
(Thank you to Michael, Susan, Ed, Linda, Bonnie, and Deb, who responded before I reached my self-imposed deadline.)