xAbout High School Reunions

By Anne Rodgers, West Palm Beach, Fla.

Some people faithfully attend school reunions. Others scoff and wonder if it isn’t a bit crazy to fly halfway across the country to see folks who, except for maybe three or four, are not acquainted with who you are now and certainly don’t care. So why go?

My high school experience is best summed up as awkward and interminable. Though adulthood has shown me to be a clear-cut extrovert, I was unable to access that quality amid the agony of self-consciousness that drowned me in high school.

So—once a decade—reunions have become that rare opportunity for a do-over. I can mingle with people I was once too shy to speak to, be friendly, be the person I wanted to be in high school. It’s a chance to spruce up outdated recollections steeped in angst-filled teenage introspection and self-absorption.

Rewriting history this way has become a big lure of reunions. But it didn’t start out that way.

Because I have not lived in my hometown since I left for college, I went to my 10th high school reunion out of curiosity. I was depressed and a bit horrified to find many classmates still clinging to their outdated cliques: Cheerleaders were still with cheerleaders. Same with the band kids and athletes.

I went to my 20th out of perversity, I suppose, with low expectations—and was delighted to discover my fellow grads had come to see that what bound us together was much more important than those small differences that separated us in high school. It was a fun night.

My recent 40th reunion included a tour of the old neighborhood by my best friend from grade school. I was shocked to see that the lawn space between his house and the next-door neighbor’s was tiny, 4 to 5 feet. I remember flying kites from that spot and learning to twirl a baton there, in what I’d recalled as a vast expanse. How could all those bright memories fit into such a small space?

At our high school, where my friend and I were part of the third graduating class, I teared up as we pulled into the parking lot. “Just think, 40 years ago this was brand-new,” he said. And so were we, I thought. We were embarking on complicated lives we could in no way predict. In that moment, the passage of 40 years was an exceedingly difficult concept to absorb. But those experiences are why I’m willing to make the long journey home. What a gift it is to come face-to-face with the tangible reminders of youth, which rekindle those priceless memories.

reprinted from AARP Bulletin
March 2012