I know a lot of people who look forward to their high school reunions, others who dread them, and still others who avoid them like the plague. My brother falls squarely in the third category. “If I was that eager to see you,” he says, “why would I have waited five years?”
Now that we have Facebook, we already know who’s gained weight and who’s gone bald, so what else do we really need to see? Maybe that’s why attendance for reunions nationwide has dropped dramatically.
As for me, I like reunions. Yes, high school was often traumatic – a time when I could actually think everybody really was focused on my bad hair day, because what else could possibly be more important than scrutinizing my many flaws? But on the whole, I liked high school. I liked most of my classes, from Homebuilding to Humanities. I had great teachers, and I made lifelong friends.
But a high school reunion can test all those memories, and throw us back into the same traumatized state we fell into the first time. One friend, who was a tough, popular guy in high school, has skipped all our reunions, he told me, out of fear. Despite my peer pressure, he did not show up for this one, either.
I can understand why. At our fifth-year reunion, we were just older versions of our high school selves, who hadn’t really done anything – so we resorted to the old stories and caste systems we created in high school. We got better at each successive reunion, but too often simply replaced our status as football heroes and homecoming queens with our new cars, careers and kids’ accomplishments. Given the depth of our interaction, we could have achieved the same effect by just exchanging our resumes, like baseball cards.
But at our last reunion, we were more interested in each other than ourselves. Yes, we talked about kids and careers, but simply to bring each other up to date, not to brag, often adding a self-effacing story. Once we got past the surface, we quickly learned that no one’s life had gone according to plan — no one’s – and we all had some dreams dashed along the way. It’s made us better people.
The whole night, I didn’t hear anybody talk about their glory days, but I did hear a lot of stories about the many stupid things we did during those three very intense years, from bizarre dance moves to Peter Frampton hairdos to powder blue tuxedos. We played our music, from the classic, “Brick House,” to the very first rap songs. Your kids call them, “Oldies.” We call them, “High school.” Good luck explaining Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five.
One friend had the bright idea of bringing her yearbooks – and not just from high school, but junior high, too. If high school could be strange, junior high was the Mt. Everest of Awkward, every day a trial. In these yearbooks we had written things like, “Have a bomb summer!” and, “Don’t ever change!”
Are you kidding me? “Don’t ever change”? In eighth grade I was probably 5-2, maybe 80 pounds, with the occasional death-defying pimple I was absolutely certain everybody in the school had stopped their lives to discuss in great detail. There was nothing about me I did not want to change. I wanted to put on a personal fire sale. Everything must go!
But all these years later, just about everything has changed – thank God. Heck, I’m now a strapping 5-foot-8! Not braggin’. Just sayin’.
On Saturday, hearing “You haven’t changed!” didn’t sound so bad, after all – true or not. Watching our parents, however, we know more changes are coming. But, as a consolation prize, I still have my hair. So, that’s something. (We’ll see how long that lasts.)
But maybe my hair, then and now, isn’t so important after all. Perhaps the main thing is to connect. And that’s what we did Saturday night. It’s a simple thing, but it does something very profound to us – bringing us back to our first friends, and our original selves.
It occurred to me that it was in high school that I started learning what I really cared about, and what I didn’t, and how to be true to myself, even when it cost me.
I gained a new respect for that guy, who was braver than I’d remembered, and knew a few things his older self had almost forgotten.
I, for one, am looking forward to our next reunion.
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[A tip of the cap to Ralph Keyes, author of an interesting book of the same title.]
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