Telling people I was planning to attend my 20-year high school reunion elicited a range of responses. They ranged from the general query, “Oh?” to the incredulous, “Why would you want to do that?” It also was an easy way to find out if the person I was talking to had any plans to attend any high school reunion, because they all volunteered that information to me. It seems that feelings about reunions, much like feelings about high school, are not a middle-of-the-road type of thing.
Here’s my advice on high school reunions: If you attended your high school for any length of time, you should go. Not so much for you, but for the people who want to see you. And believe me, there are people who want to see you. We had a guy transfer in second quarter of senior year, poor thing. I can guarantee that he will never attend any reunion, probably because his loyalties are with his other school, but also I’m betting he thinks no one remembers him. But I still wonder how he’s doing, and he was only there for a semester.
I’ve realized, though, that a person’s reaction to the thought of attending a high school reunion says a lot about who a person is. For me, there was no way I wasn’t going. This despite the fact that I hated high school itself. I always felt that geography had trapped me in the wrong school and that I was made to go to the smaller more artsy school where they could wear hats indoors and it didn’t seem to be so goddamn focused on male sporting achievements. But I lived over on the other side of town where football (and boys’ basketball) was king and so that was the school I attended. So high school was no fun at all, in some respects. However, I loved (and also hated a bit) the throngs of people I attended school with and there was no way I wasn’t going to catch up with as many of them as possible. For me, the human connections were the important part of high school and I value, and regularly think about, how those connections shape me today.
My boyfriend has never attended any reunion and does not spend time thinking about the past. In fact, when I ask him specific things about his high school experience, he pieces together a vague story which always ends with him shuddering; happy to be far away from that place and person he was. I’m betting there are schoolmates who would love to catch up with him, and I’m sure he wouldn’t be opposed to that if it happened organically. But to travel across the country to visit a place he can’t really remember isn’t something he wants to do.
Another friend insists that no one will remember her. She did graduate early and move on to college at sixteen, but I question if she is truly forgotten. She went through school from elementary to high school with the same people, she was in band, and she herself will tell me stories, using first and last names, about people in her class. If she can remember them so clearly, I’m betting her name comes up in the “where the heck is she?” conversations at reunions. I think her high school story is that high school wasn’t relevant to her life—that she faded into the background and didn’t really emerge until she got out and went to college. It’s her story and I can’t change it, but I don’t believe it for a minute.
I’ve had other people tell me that they have no desire to see anyone, that they had no connection, that they hated everyone they went to school with. I can’t know their high school experience, but I question the sweeping generalities. There was not a single person to connect to? There was not the person who sat behind you in French class and passed notes back and forth? There was not someone you only sort of liked that you rolled your eyes with as to the general ludicrousness of the situation? I’m betting there were connections somewhere and it’s worth it go back and revisit those connections.
My reunion was incredibly fun, even though I had the same conversation repeatedly. Here, I’ll summarize: “I’m married and have X children, my job’s okay, life is good.” There were variations (not married, divorced, no kids, job not good, etc.) but that was the gist. Over and over again we told our stories and they weren’t that different. But the fact that we were telling them to people who had known us before any of those things came about made the conversations different, connected in a way you can’t achieve with friends you’ve made since that time.