"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

Why should I go to my high school reunion?

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As I write this, a 40 year reunion is being planned for my year 10 cohort, to take place near the end of this year, around the time we all walked off the premises of our high school, never to return.

Facebook messaging has been a frenzy of activity over the past couple of weeks, as first the germ of an idea was floated, then some people were "invited", and slowly others were added to the exclusive "reunion group", and still others promised to contact those who are, shall we just say, less-inclined-social-media-wise.

A reunion novice
I've never actually been to a high school reunion. The first, and most likely one that I would have attended if I could, was the 10 year reunion. By then I was married, living back in my home state, and had a 7 week old baby boy. Even with that little addition to the family, it would have been so easy to go. But it just so happened that the very same weekend of the reunion I was on the other side of the country at my sister-in-law's wedding. So as my year 10 classmates were gathering together for the first time since 1978, I was celebrating for a different reason in a different city in a different state, my baby peacefully (and thankfully) sleeping through the wedding reception.

I'm not so sure about subsequent reunions. There may have been a 20th, but I think planning for the 30th fizzled before it really even got off the ground. I wasn't sorry. I remember being aware of the amount of time that had passed, and feeling quite peaceful about the fact that living far away (and long before social media) either I'd heard nothing about a reunion, or it hadn't actually happened (a little less peaceful about the possibility that I just wasn't invited..........).

To go or not to go?
This past couple of weeks though, as the messages have "pinged" across the country, I've been asking myself "Do I want to go?" and if so, then "Why would I go?"  Obviously there's no "should" about it, nobody will be holding a gun to my head. But if I do go, then I guess my question really is "Why?"

Honestly, high school wasn't the happiest time of my life. I was never one of the "cool" kids, I often felt like a third wheel, I was far more academically inclined than sporty, I was a late bloomer, so never the object of desire for the (oh my goodness, no, just NO) "cool" guys, and frankly I was glad when year 10 finally ended and I could move on.

In fact, one of the memories that has stayed with me, even to this day, is standing awkwardly in line during phys-ed class, waiting while two "captains" (read: teacher's sporty favourites) picked teams. Oh the agony of knowing that I would be among the last to be (grudgingly) picked. I never understood it. I was actually a pretty good runner, and because I was quite small I was a reasonable gymnast, and not too shabby at team sports like netball and basketball (hopeless at softball though). But there's just something about short, skinny, flat-chested, and braces that says "don't pick me"!! (Umm, bitter? Me? Never!)

So it's been quite interesting for me, as I've witnessed the planning taking place via social media, and the excited comments about what a great reunion it's shaping up to be, and I've found myself umming and aaahing about whether I would even consider taking an extra trip across the country for this event. My whole family lives that side of the country, it's not like I need an excuse to visit.

When in doubt, ask Google
I decided to see what others had to say on the matter, by asking Google, as you do. I entered the search term "Why do people attend high school reunions?" and, unsurprisingly I guess, I found a mixed bag.

Firstly, Claire Stevens, Weekend Editor of the Mamamia blog, in a humourous post in which she describes the 8 types of people at every school reunion, writes (among other things):
The sole purpose of the high school reunion is to turn up seeming more successful and together than anyone would have ever predicted.

On the other hand, James Charisma from WHIMN, confesses to all sorts of scary, scary questions tumbling around in his mind, as he writes this article about Why you should totally attend your high school reunion:
Do I really want to put myself in the position of having to relive those awkward high school years again?
Have I accomplished enough with my life to show my face?
Am I even interested in seeing all those people from my past? 

But at the end of the day, his advice is "Go to the reunion, so you can see how far you've come........."

Sarah McDonald in a 2013 post for Daily Life writes this:
............ as the cocoon of school crumbles into long-term forgetfulness, life becomes a great leveller. We realise no one has completely escaped the pain of bad decisions or bad relationships, loss or illness, disappointment or drama.

And this:
After 20 years the entire vibe changes and those chips on most shoulders have become mere splinters. After 20 years, life has caught up with even the most beautiful, most talented, most popular. After 25 years no one cares who was captain, prefect, sports star or dag, loser, reject.

Elaine Ambrose, on the Huffington Post blog in 2015, wrote her own 5 reasons to attend a high school reunion. Some of them referred to earlier reunions - the 10th or the 20th - but it was the two that were more relevant to later reunions - the 30th and 40th - that resonated with me. She said this of the 30th year reunion:
Middle-age classmates have lost hair and gained bellies. They pull out reading glasses and show photos of their children. Some have grandchildren. The party is over by 10pm.

That sounds right up my alley!!

And she wrote this about the 40th:
Photos of smiling faces beam from a poster showing those who have died. It's a stark reminder that we're not invincible................... We hug each other with intention and share photos of grandkids.

I found this particularly poignant, as already there have been enthusiastic suggestions within our group of ways to honour those from our cohort who have died way too early.

Kenny Myers posted 10 really great reasons to attend your high school reunion. Of the 10, there were really only 2 that resonated with me - to satisfy my curiosity, and "because wall posts aren't real conversations". Nathan Branson, in his post from 2016 about the flimsy reasons people give for not attending their reunion, and reflecting on his own 10 year reunion, takes this further, calling it "the millennial reason" for not attending. In other words, "because of Facebook, I don't really see why I should go. I already know what is going on with other people. I see status updates of what other people are doing."

Nathan didn't subscribe to this view, attended his reunion, and was glad he did.

James S. Fell, writing in 2016 on Why you should go to your high school reunion (complete with confessed ulterior motive of hoping to tempt some of his own former classmates to their 30 year reunion), says this:
High school left a mark; it was a shared experience, and the reunion is not about reliving that experience, but remembering those you went through it with. You may rekindle old friendships or create new ones.

I think these are wise words, but I'm not sure it's quite enough to make me get on a plane. Yet.

And finally, here's what neuroscientist Matthew D. Lieberman Ph.D. had to say in his 2013 article written for Psychology Today, "Reunions: why do we go (and why should we care)?":
Humans are storytelling, story-loving creatures. We want to know what happened, how things turned out. All these folks from high school were in the story of our lives when it was at its most intense, with small, but magic-seeming, triumphs and earth-shattering defeats that made tomorrow seem like an impossibility. None of us had any idea who we would be 25 years later (or even 5 years later), but now that that time has arrived we want to see how the stories played out.

I can really relate to this, as I most definitely love a good life story. But the challenge at a reunion will be finding the opportunity for those one-on-one interactions where those (honest) stories can be shared (not to mention trying to hear amid the chatter of who-knows-how-many men and women laughing and talking over the top of each other..........).

(BTW, Matthew Lieberman's TEDx talk at the end of the article is fascinating, especially the bit about experiencing physical versus emotional pain. Worth a watch!)

Decision time
If I decide to go, I'll need to make plans soon. For me (and others no doubt) there will be additional factors like potentially having to take annual leave (depending on how long I choose to stay), the cost of a return airfare, and the timing of this trip with other commitments we have at that time of year.

Right at this moment I'm leaning towards going. But that may change tomorrow (or later today even).

What about you?
I'd love to hear your experience of school reunions. Did you go? Did you opt out? Was it awkward (or even excruciating)? Was it the most wonderful experience and you're so glad you overcame your hesitations? Or were you the extravert school captain who organised the whole thing?? (Good on you!!)

And if I do go, you can be certain I'll be writing a post (if not several) about the whole reunion experience!

4 comments

  1. I've never been interested in attending any high school reunions Sue. I keep in touch with my highschool friends via FB and some I still see socially. I figure if I haven't missed any of the others in the last 40 years then I can live without seeing them again. On the other hand, the youth group I attended through my teens has an occasional reunion and I wouldn't miss one of those in a million years. I love all the friends I had from those days and it's like time stands still and we're 17 again. I guess they're more my "people" than the ones I went to school with - so if there was a YG reunion I'd be there in a heartbeat, a highschool one would be given the flick because there's nobody I'm remotely interested in catching up with again. Good luck with your decision - it sounds to me like you'll be going, so I hope it lives up to expectations :)

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    1. The jury is definitely still out Leanne, and I'm not at all sure what my expectations are at this stage anyway! I'm going to have to think about it some more, and then see if the airfares are likely to be favourable at that time of year!! But it was an interesting exercise to research the views of others! I didn't have a youth group experience, only a brief foray into a "young adults" church scene. No reunions planned there as far as I know. Glad your youth group days were memorable and would be worth revisiting. Thanks for your comment xx

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  2. I borderline hated high school so I would never want to go to a reunion. Unfortunately there were extremely few people in my year group who I related to and I just have no interest in seeing any of them again. Now, I only see two of my highschool friends anymore, and that would probably be once to twice yearly. I actually haven't even been invited to any reunions, so either they haven't happened or my ex classmates feel the same way about me that I feel about them! Haha!

    I think it's really nice that you are even thinking about going to your RĂ©union - it shows that high school must have held some positive experiences for you at least. I hope if you do go that it turns out to be another positive experience :-). Xox

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    1. It definitely wasn't my favourite time of life either, but I do stay in touch with a few of my old high school friends. I'm still vacillating about the reunion, and probably will for a while yet! I suspect the financial commitment may be the decider in the end - it's not a cheap endeavour to travel across our vast country!!

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