I attended my 20th high school reunion last weekend, which strikes me as a remarkable fact.
After all, 20 years sounds like a long time. But it doesn’t always feel that long, perhaps because I’m still in touch with friends from high school, which helps keep certain memories fresh. And I attended my 10th high school reunion, which was far stranger and disorienting. I had always sworn that I would never, ever go to such a thing, and then I did a complete 180, basically vowing to attend come hell or high water. Even now, I can’t explain exactly what prompted this change in attitude. I do know this: It all seemed like a big, hilarious joke until my friends Amy and Jenny and I arrived at the reunion, and I suddenly felt like throwing up. “Why did I decide to do this?” I remember thinking. “Why?”
Despite my near panic attack, I ended up having a great time, which no doubt explains why I was so much calmer heading into the 20th reunion. Thanks to Facebook, I had a good sense of who was going, and I knew that people I wanted to see were going to be there. Just like last time, I met up with my friends Amy and Jenny prior to the event, and we headed over together. Unlike last time, I was not overcome by a desire to flee as soon as we arrived.
Even so, I was a bit overwhelming to walk into the home of the classmate hosting the reunion and immediately run into former classmates I had not seen in 10 or 20 years. Contributing to my sense of dislocation was the fact that the first thing we did was head into the kitchen to make name tags. Copies of our high school yearbook photos were piled on the counter, and I sifted through them until I found my picture, which I cut out and affixed onto a tag with my name on it. Did we really need name tags? I wondered. Had we really changed that much over the past two decades?
By the end of the evening, I had my answer: Yes. And no. I recognized and remembered pretty much everyone. But the name tags did help. And I suspect they’ll really help at our 30th high school reunion.
Our 10th reunion was a catered affair, held at a banquet facility. This one was more of a DIY event: We signed up to bring sides, desserts and appetizers (I brought potato salad) and paid $15, which covered everything else — hot dogs and hamburgers, drinks, etc. One of my classmates owns an establishment called The Beverage King, and supplied a tasty array of beer and cider. All in all, the cookout format worked very well, and I would recommend it. The event was essentially a house party, and it felt very casual and relaxed as a result.
After spending hours gabbing with old classmates, I’ve decided that Facebook has changed the high school reunion. At the 10th, I really hadn’t seen most of my classmates since graduation, and it sort of blew my mind to see them all in a room together again. But most of these people are on Facebook, and I have a vague sense of what they are up to; I see pictures of their children and houses and pets. As a result, my conversational arsenal is far more advanced than it used to be.
Ten years ago, I probably began 80 percent of my reunion conversations by asking my classmates where they live and what they’re doing. This year, I was often able to jump several steps ahead. “Why did you and your husband buy a yurt?” “How are the kids and the chickens?” “So how do you like working for Nintendo?” “I was sorry to see that your cat died.” In retrospect, it’s actually kind of frightening how much you can learn about people through casual Facebook use.
Everyone was nice and friendly, but at the end of the day the people I most enjoyed talking to were the people I spent time with in high school — my friends and acquaintances. I convinced my friend Steve to attend, and since I hadn’t seen him in a while, the reunion offered a good chance to catch up. Toward the end of the evening, Steve suggested that we find a time to get our old group of friends together, which seemed like a great idea. Of course, the challenge is finding the time to convene a mini-reunion, and convincing people who live far away to travel. So maybe our mini-reunion will never happen. But the desire to throw such an event underscores how meaningful and enriching high school friendships can be.
“See you at the 30th,” I said, when bidding farewell to my friend Amy.
She laughed. “Hopefully I’ll see you before that,” she said.
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