In Defense of the High School Reunion: Or, Why You Should Accept that Friend Request

About two weeks ago a classmate posted the dates for our 30th class reunion. Wait. What? 1985 was not thirty years ago.  It was last week.

“You Can’t Take It With You” premiered; there was a Prism concert; a future NBA star was warming up in the gym; Baker’s Dozen was rehearsing; the boys’ tennis team was winning state; and the debate team was mulling whether the US government should increase exploration beyond the earth’s mesosphere.

Thirty years? It’s not real.

I had never been to a class reunion until five years ago. I was in town only for one of the days of the reunion, and some friends convinced me that we should all go to the opening night outdoor gathering.  And, in grand style, the group of us went together.  It was fun. We talked, hugged people we knew, hugged people we never said hello to in high school, and we just had an old fashioned hangout without the worry of getting caught drinking illegally.

Here’s the thing.  I swore I would never attend a reunion.  I wasn’t interested.  I didn’t care.  I used to say, “I don’t care about the people in high school.  There are two people whom I want to keep in touch with and I do. I don’t need a reunion.” Maybe it was because I was a high school teacher; I never really left high school, so I saw no need to revisit it. And, for twenty-four years that served me well. But, after I considered the invitation and went five years ago, I realized that I was interested in many of these people – I do care about them.

The thing is: from high school friends to enemies and everyone in between, these are the people who knew you when you didn’t know who you were. You knew them when they had the audacity to paint their nails in AP English or invite the French teacher to a hotel party or…well, I don’t want to get too specific. It is interesting to see who these people have become: as parents, as spouses, as community leaders, as bums, as professionals, as individuals, as human beings. And, you know what? They turn out pretty interestingly.

A few years ago I had a conference in Phoenix. The guy I dated in high school whom I will call my first real boyfriend lives there with his wife and three kids. We had a drink. Talked about raising three boys. A mini-reunion. On that same trip mini-reunion number two happened when I had a drink and some raw vegetables with a woman whom I would not have called a friend in high school, but I do now. She recalled AP English class much more clearly than I did. Like it or not, we have a connection.

What changed my opinion about the high school reunion? The looming spectre of my own mortality? A crushing need to right wrongs from them past or revenge injustices? A sense of a bygone era? A yearning for the good old days? Nope.  I think it was Facebook; for better or worse, it has become instantly easy to connect and reconnect with those people who “knew you when.”

Just last week I had the good fortune to have a lunch with a friend who was a year ahead of me in high school. In fact, we attended the same elementary school and junior high school (my son laughs at that monikker). She remembered things about me that I didn’t even remember. I was humbled. We have plotted to get together again soon. We likely would have never discovered that we work in similar agencies and that I was going to be at a conference in her office without the internet reconnection.

After the announcement went out about the reunion dates, I texted my dearest friend from high school, announcing that she was going to the reunion. She flat-out refused. I cajoled. I tried to bribe. No luck. Yet. I have eight months to convince her. (I’m taking suggestions on how to convince her – so, please write in!) There is value in re-meeting people from your past.

Just last night I had a telephone conversation with another then-acquaintance now friend.  We reminisced about marching band; talked about lost loves; the trajectories of life; and, the question many forty-ish people face, “What’s next?” Again, we recalled things about each other that we ourselves had lost touch with.

On more than one occasion I have had a Facebook request from someone who does not live in Nigeria and does not open their message with “Hello Dearest” but who has grown up in the same town I did.  I have looked at such a person’s name and picture (so frustrating when a profile picture is a dog or a cartoon!), and had to get out the yearbook or phone a friend to figure out the connection. When the connection is realized, it’s always an epiphany. And, I always accept that request. No ulterior motive other than that we-knew-each-other-when connection.

Yes, I will be going to my thirtieth reunion next June. If you have a reunion coming up or a chance to get together with a long-lost friend or acquaintance, you should.  And, to my friend who adamantly refuses: you should come with me if for no other reason to realize that high school is better on the other side, as John Mayer puts it. And, the reality is this: we are all pretty damn amazing people.




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