The Reunion to Coming Home
Are you headed back to your hometown for the holidays? One whiff of pecan pie, some turkey, or the sight of your old high school is all it takes to bring you right back to your old stomping grounds. Before you know it, you might be engaging in your normal sibling squabbles, Dad and Mom have the TV turned up to full volume to watch Jeopardy, and when you pop out to the store to get more milk you run into your old sweetheart. Home for the holidays not only means seeing family but perhaps some old friends, too. As you drive by the old neighborhood and the familiar sites of your town, you picture your younger self. Maybe it’s you driving your car into the school parking lot, playing in the band, or you get a vision of the day you skipped school and went out for pizza to drive around with friends. You still see yourself walking the halls of high school and sitting in homeroom. No matter if you loved or hated high school, there are faces that float into your mind then fade away, yet the memories are still there revisiting you. Perhaps you recently have attended your high school class reunion. What did you expect when you went to your reunion? Were people like you remembered them to be? Are you the same person you were in high school?
I recently asked these questions and received a lot of feedback on peoples’ thoughts.
One takeaway was that most people were interested in learning what their former classmates were doing now. From finding out that someone is a marketing executive or a teacher, to finding out someone takes pictures of dead bodies at crime scenes always makes for interesting conversation as to how they found their way into those careers.
The most common thought amongst all was that many people felt that even with their shared experiences, they were not the same person they were in high school. Even though they may notice a glance or a smile that reminds them of their former classmate, for the most part they know they all have changed.
One woman, Deb Camejo, who recently celebrated her 40th high school reunion, shared that she was extremely quiet in high school and it wasn’t until she became a charge nurse that she learned to speak up. She said, “I attended my 40th high school reunion last November. I realized that I have aged gracefully and am proud to be the person that I am now. Yes, I have changed a lot since high school. My transformation didn’t occur until after nursing school graduation and I began working in a hospital in charge of a forty bed med-surg unit. I came out of my shell and became more verbal and self-assured. I became a more dominant person.”
Susan Houde at her 35th reunion said, “The reunion was a chance to revisit a simpler time. Of course we thought things were so complex in high school, and some things were, but the really complex stuff was yet to come—relationships, finances, children, and all sorts of losses and gains. Yet, for a few hours we were carried back in time to relive some glory days. Youth, vigor, passion, angst. The reunion is where you find yourself in a wonderful conversation with the woman (then a girl) whom you feel ‘stole’ your boyfriend. The angst is gone, replaced by a genuine appreciation for that heartbreak. Those experiences paved the way for who you are now.”
So what should you expect when you go to your high school reunion? The answer is nothing. Seriously, don’t expect it to be a re-creation of high school all over again. For good or bad, it will be different. You might find that quiet, awkward girl turned into a lovely, gracious swan while the popular party girl has now partied too much and it has caught up to her. Or you might find that your friends now look totally like their parents, and that their high school aged kids look exactly like they did. However, none of that matters because you all grew up together. You experienced football games on Friday nights, pep rallies, math class, school plays, and soccer championships. All of you experienced some sort of high school agony, embarrassment, happiness, and sadness.
You all share a kinship of where you are at this moment in time. Some have older kids, some younger, and some don’t have any; yet you are at the reunion sharing in this particular stage of life. You share in the loss of classmates, and as the years move on, you come to realize the reality that unfortunately those losses will grow. There is this wonderful feeling of coming together. Suddenly actions, thoughts, and words that were incomplete come together like homing pigeons. Here we are. All together for a moment in time.
The people from high school have known you a long time. Some remember you from grammar school. You grew up with each other’s hopes and dreams. For a few short hours of the reunion, you are eighteen years old again. Reliving and retelling. Re-dreaming and remembering. Reintroducing and relearning all there is to know about these special people from your past. There may be someone with whom you wonder why you did not talk. You actually had the same friends but life sent you out on different paths and only now do your lives cross again. Now, here you are, years later and you talk and learn about them in the small amount of time you have while reunioning. If you are lucky enough, you get to continue these conversations now that there is Facebook and Instagram. You get to be involved in their life again in some small way.
Here are some other thoughts that were shared about going to a reunion.
- You meet people you never spoke to once in high school, or after, and you learn you have a lot in common and regret having never caught up sooner.
- The cliques in high school have disappeared forever.
- Perhaps the greatest source of humor, and unbridled laughter, is when people recount funny stories you have completely forgotten. Or, you hear an entirely different take on them than that which you recalled.
- In the blink of an eye, you went from worrying about your car and letter jacket, to your grandchildren’s flu symptoms.
- You may witness an apology tour by the known bullies at the 5th and 10th Likely their own kids started to be bullied and they observed the pain only a parent can feel. Or maybe they just grew up.
Ken Langford shared some poignant thoughts about high school. He did not agree that you are essentially the same person you were in high school. I received a wonderful note from Ken after attending my high school reunion that said, “It was great to chat with you and finally meet you thirty-six years after we walked the same tiles at high school. As with many at this reunion, our lives then were lived in parallel. I cannot recall any intersection then, but even if there had been, it might not have mattered much under the circumstances.” This really struck a chord in that there were so many people that we lived our lives in parallel with but didn’t know each other. Or we wouldn’t know each other. We may have been pegged a jock, a nerd, a brain, a burnout, a popular kid, but did any of us really identify with those markers? We were more than that, yet we were labeled and classified into those identities. Ken felt thankful that he had been torn down and rebuilt since high school, and that was for the better. He felt that a reunion actually allowed the opportunity to build new relationships. We get so pigeon holed into thinking certain ways about people we knew thirty-five years ago that sometimes we don’t give it a chance to realize that we all grow. Some don’t, but mostly all of us do. Ken said, “At reunions we celebrate a shared history—even if lacking specifics—of a space and time through which we passed on the way to our individual destinies. Even if you don’t like some of you memories, no one can remove their influence, and in this way, I feel these connections are important. These experiences are like fossils, offering us clues to our evolution. Here we are personal anthropologists.”
Perhaps a reunion is best summed up by Kurt who said, “We are on this earth in a nanosecond of time in the large scheme. But the older you get, the more you realize that you walked on this earth in the tiny bubble of high school experience at the very same instant. In a world of billions of people, over thousands of years, you come to realize that is pretty special.”
Am I the same person I was in high school? Yes, and no. I may have the same smile and I am just as tall. I value a good friend and honesty. Just like most, I have shared experiences and teachers that have shaped me into who I am; yet I have grown. Those early years of tackling issues like learning how to deal with friends, drinking, drugs, bullying, studying, and essentially finding your way has helped develop us all into better people. And isn’t that what we all hope for? With teenage angst comes growth of character. And when you’re growing you’re learning. We were all a work in progress as a teenager. Thankfully and hopefully, we have let go of the bad and kept the best version of ourselves. Let’s hope we never stop learning and every five years we come together to share some more hilarious stories and more about who we have become. When you return home for the holidays go and take a trip down memory. Reminisce when your team won against the rival school and remember those teachers everyone loved, but don’t forget to say hello to some of your old friends. Why wait until the next reunion to find a new, old friend?
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