I have a dear friend; a life-long friend who has refused to attend any high school reunions. I was firmly in her camp for 24 years, repeating the mantra, “There are three people from high school I want to stay in touch with and I do.” Then one year, I happened to be in town for a conference on the eve of my 25th reunion, a group of friends gathered up, and we all went to a street party kind of mini-reunion. I was hooked.
My friend remains unconvinced.
It is the season for reunions, weddings, family picnics and all of that kind of thing. Perhaps it is human nature to make everything about us. We are the heroes of our own stories – well, at least the main characters. But some events are not about us as individuals. Sometimes being part of a group – a family filled with distant cousins or a graduating class filled with people you kind of remember – is the focus. Gatherings of such people help us grow as human beings. And remind us that although we are important, the world does not revolve around only us. Also, they have a high fun-to-time ratio: you can invest a small amount of time for a lot of fun.
We go to reunions not to relive high school but to see who it was that we grew up with. Let’s face it, in high school we all got slapped with temporary, artificial labels: cheerleader, stoner, band nerd, slut, teacher’s pet. None of these labels are actually who we are. I barely remember who did what in high school, and I could not care less. I want to know who I was growing up with. You know what? I grew up with lawyers, actors, writers, engineers, underwriters, business people, and activists. As one of my friends (a professional photographer) noted: “We have some pretty awesome people in our class.”
It’s true. And it’s true of your class, too.
Reunions can remind us of those blankets of insecurities that we lugged up and down the high school hallways. Back in those days, we were sweaty with the need for acceptance, and wrapped in layers of I-am-not-good-enough-or-smart-enough-or-cute-enough, our faces broke out and our hair curled unattractively. College, jobs, partners, kids, pets all help us store those blankets. The thing to remember is that we were kids in high school; we are adults now. Adults like others; we realize that everyone has something to offer; we like to learn about the other people in our world; we want to network; we want to resurrect old friendships and make new ones. It is not necessary to get those blankets out of storage just especially for such events.
Go ahead and burn the blankets.
Reunions are not about popularity. High school was. Let me repeat that: reunions are not about popularity. Sure, certain people may have more memories with people other than you. But, these reunions make fantastic new memories. I have been in high school for 26 years all told, and the fact of the matter is that high schools are awkward, awful places to be a teenager. Reunions serve the purpose of unseating that awful awkwardness. New memories are created – where it is okay if we are all drinking and laughing and taking ill-advised pictures. I have had some of the best conversations and funniest moments with classmates with whom I shared only a geometry class or a reading of Richard III.
We can all use some fun new memories.
Finally, but not least important: it’s a party. Who says no to a party? Okay, right. I have. And I probably will again, given my introverted tendencies. But, this is a once every five or ten years party. We all can bring out our best most festive selves to this party, enjoy each other’s company, and then go back to our lives. Even if you don’t have a great time, it’s not unlike the pain of childbirth: any distasteful memories will wear off before the next one rolls around. By that time, you will have forgotten any negativity, and you’ll find yourself signing up for the golf outing and the dinner/dance.
So, c’mon. Go to the next reunion, wedding, family barbeque. These events remind us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves; they connect us to old friends and allow us to create new friends; they connect us to people we don’t always see; they remind us of our history; and, most importantly, they call us to have a little fun.