Thought Provoking

#3 - Why I Don't  Want to Attend my high school reunion

My 30-Year High School Reunion is coming up in June and I have no interest in attending. None. My distaste for the event is not brought on by what you think:

I did not hate high school.

I was not a loner or a geek or the school slut (far from it, I’m afraid).

I was never bullied or picked on.

In fact, I had a great circle of friends, some of whom I’m still close with today. I had excellent grades. I was an involved student, participating with the school newspaper, yearbook and the kickline squad (I was like a Radio City Rockette but my days of jumping into a split are long over). I have some great memories of those years. But still, I have no desire to go to a party with a bunch of people who I hardly talked to in high school. Sure, there are a handful of old friends I don’t see on a regular basis who I’d like to see. But, the others? Eh, couldn’t care less. Besides, we’re all on Facebook now anyway so why do I need to see them in person and try to make an awkward conversation comfortable? I know, bad attitude.

Our high school class has set up a Facebook group and everyone is posting old photos now, gearing up for the event. Yes, it’s fun to poke fun at our big hair, Flashdance sweatshirts, and high-waisted jeans. But that’s kind of enough for me. I don’t have much more to say to these people. I feel like something is wrong with me because everyone else seems so excited for the reunion. Videos are being compiled, memoriam speeches prepared for classmates who have passed, and other party plans are being readied.

The comment threads on the Facebook page are like one giant pep rally, with everyone making the effort to track others down and encourage our classmates to attend. One person commented that “our graduating class was special because we were all so close.” Huh? Are they sure they are referring to the Class of ’83? I see nothing that separates our class from any other high school class.. Our class still had the popular kids, the nerds, the jocks, and the “greasers” — the kids who wore leather jackets and received the best grades in the auto mechanics elective. Bottom line, we had just as many cliques as any other high school.

I’ve done my time with reunion gigs: I went to both my 10-year and 20-year reunions. At the 10-year, many people were married except for me. However, I dragged my then-boyfriend (but future husband) along, and he hung out with all my friends’ husbands. They were all pretty miserable, but they endured the night together at a table in the corner. At the 20-year, we wised up and left our spouses at home. This time, I was 3 1/2 months pregnant, though. Not only couldn’t I drink, but I looked chubby, instead of like a glowing pregnant woman. Every time someone came up to me, I quickly said, “I’m pregnant, not fat!”

At the 20-year, I thought the women looked great, and the men, not so much. Many of them had lost hair and gained some weight. This time, I think the tables are going to turn the other way. I think the women are going to look older or botoxed or both, and the men are going to look good for 47/48. Just a hunch. I hope I’m wrong. Personally, I’m still clinging to a comment that was made after the 20-year by one of our classmates who informally summarized the reunion in a post-event email with categories like “best dressed” and “most likely to be divorced by the 30th.” The category he put me in was “Person who has not aged one day since high school.” Woo hoo! Something tells me I won’t earn that honor again. Maybe I need to get a few needles to the forehead before the big day.

In all honesty, I’m not worried about how much I’ve aged. We’ve all aged, we’re all 30-friggin’ years older than high school! I think I’m more worried about feeling like Emily from high school, who was mostly happy, but who was SO MUCH happier once she arrived at college. College was where I finally felt confident with who I was and who I could become. Some people peak in high school. I think I was only starting to head upwards from high school, and I’d like to think I haven’t started to descend yet.

New York Magazine recently ran a cover story, “Why You Never Truly Leave High School” which discussed how our self-image from those years is especially adhesive. The article asserts that one of the reasons high schools produce such peculiar value systems is precisely because the people there have little in common, except their ages. Since there is no clear way to sort out social status, kids create them on their own based on crude, common-denominator stuff like nice clothes, athletic prowess, and looks, rather than on subtleties in personalities. This results in an unfortunate paradox: Though adolescents may want nothing more than to be able to define themselves, they discover that high school is one of the hardest places to do it. Maybe I was one of those kids, not quite fitting into one of those categories, but desperately wanting to neatly belong.

The New York article also points out that before Facebook, there was a real discontinuity between our high school selves and the rest of our lives. Since Facebook arrived, social ties that would have gone dormant now remain accessible over time, and all the time. According to Pew Research, 22% of our Facebook connections are from high school. Many of us choose to revisit our years from high school. I know I’m one of those Facebook users, with a large share of my Facebook friends from my high school class. So, what’s my problem? Why am I hesitant to show up at my reunion?

Maybe I’m reluctant to go because I’m an inherently shy person. My younger self was much more timid and cautious. Perhaps I’m remembering the younger me and I don’t want to go back there. The older me loves to socialize and I enjoy meeting new people at any opportunity. Except my former classmates are not new people. And, many of them are people who barely acknowledged me in the school hallways.

I’ll admit, I’ve reconnected with plenty of my classmates on Facebook and I’ve discovered some of them are funny, interesting adults. I’ll even admit I thought I was “smarter” than some of them and that they might never have a solid career. Of course, the joke is on me as I struggle to make it as a writer, having given up my first career over 14 years ago. Perhaps I should welcome the opportunity to talk to the others I judged too harshly, but now make a good living and have beautiful families. And perhaps I should make the effort to reconnect with the people who I disliked, but actually turned out to be nice people. And likewise perhaps I should reach out to the ones who disliked or ignored me, but now may realize I was just a shy girl. Who knows, maybe I’ll realize we were a special class after all.


#2 - In praise of 50th high school reunions

At your 20th high-school reunion, you slow-danced with Sandy, a classmate who was always smiling, joking, full of fun. “Isn’t this great?" you recall her saying. “We’re 38 years old but tonight we’re 18 again. We have it both ways.”

But that was 30 years ago. Now it’s your 50th high-school reunion, and you ask Sandy to slow-dance again. She smiles and says: “Isn’t this great? We’re 68 years old but tonight we’re 18 again. We have it ALL ways … and always.”

You both laugh as an old song from the '60s plays. Other classmates join you on the dance floor. It’s the first night of a weekend-long class reunion. You’re having a fabulous time.

This year the first wave of the Baby Boomers, those born in 1946 who graduated from high school in 1964, had 50th class reunions. All over the nation, former seniors — now genuine “seniors” — gathered together to remember “the way we were.” For the next 18 years, Boomers will be reuniting at their 50ths. The last wave, born in '64, graduated in '82, will celebrate in 2032.

If they’re like us, they will squint at each others’ nametags, shriek with recognitions, hug each other warmly and then talk pretty much nonstop. Countless sentences will start with the words: “Remember when we….?” Classmates will drink, eat, dance, laugh, cry and ask how all those years went by so fast.

As the saying goes: Inside every older person is a young person wondering, what the hell happened? Well, here’s what, for starters:

Jobs. Colleges. Romances. Marriages. Children. Grandchildren. Homes. Mortgages. Bills. Infidelities. Lies. Divorces. Wars. Deaths. Cancers. Surgeries. Drugs. Addictions. Recoveries. Triumphs. Failures. Promotions. Demotions. Bankruptcies. Startovers. Makeovers. Epiphanies. Confessions. Apologies. Acceptances. Retirements.

And at last, perhaps: Peace. Joy. Wisdom. Contentment.

At 10th and 20th reunions, many people are striving to impress. At the 30th and 40th, many are struggling to self-assess. At the 50th, it’s just time to profess: “Here’s who I am, for better or worse. Accept me, and I’ll do the same for you.” As one classmate put it: “There are no pretentious people here.” She was right.

You recall D.H. Lawrence’s phrase: “Look! We Have Come Through!” Having come of age in the '60s, that seems especially true. Granted, the Greatest Generation had it far worse, with the Depression and World War II. But we Boomers had our own challenges: the JFK, RFK and MLK assassinations, the Vietnam War, Kent State, the Chicago Democratic Convention, Civil Rights struggles, Women’s Liberation, the Sexual Revolution, the Summer of Love, Woodstock, Altamont and other tectonic changes, especially post-1964.

At your reunion, a favorite former social-studies teacher says: “Your class was the last class that was fairly straight.” (In the original meaning of that word.) “After that, in the mid-'60s and '70s, with drugs everywhere, things got pretty bad.” And dangerous.

On the first night of your 50th reunion, the organizers play a slide show with photos of your classmates who are deceased: more than 40 of them, in a class of about 300. The room is hushed as the young faces go up on a big screen, then fade away. You hear gasps and tears. “Is he/she gone? We had classes together. We dated. What happened to him/her?”

A video shows news highlights of the year 1964. About the wildest event was the Republican National Convention in San Francisco, when Barry Goldwater was nominated to run for President against LBJ. Or maybe the Beatles’ first tour of the United States, when the Fab Four were mobbed by crowds of screaming girls.

You recall the most outrageous acts of your senior year: Putting a live chicken in the library book-drop slot. Getting someone to buy a case a beer so you and some buddies could get drunk for the first time. Trying to put a cow into the back hallway of the school during graduation week. The principal stopped you at the last minute by holding the door shut. He comes to your 50th reunion, and vividly recalls that incident. You both laugh uproariously. It was a time of such innocence.

Some of us, as Paul Simon sang, are “still crazy after all these years.” But you and your 50th classmates seem mostly crazy about family, kids, grandkids, health, homes, gardens, pets, hobbies, trips, books, faith, love; i.e., the things that truly matter in life.

On the last night of your reunion, a nice buffet dinner is followed by a great band playing hits from the '60s and '70. People dance their heads off. We may be 68, but for a couple of days we’re all 18 again. You look around the room. Memories flood in: “If we had a chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we?”

You see one of the smartest kids in your class, once seemingly shy and self-conscious, now relaxed and gregarious. You see a girl you knew in kindergarten, the first girl you ever kissed. You see your first “steady” girlfriend from junior high school, now married with kids and grandkids. You see guys who were the best athletes, some now a bit overweight or talking about their knee and hip replacements. You see the boy and girl voted Most Likely to Succeed — which they did.

You are embraced by classmates you have known for at least 50 years — and some you’ve known for 65 years, since pre-school. You tell story after story, take photo after photo, have hug after hug. When you leave, after midnight, you are aglow with something profound, deeply bonding, almost tribal.

That’s what 50th High School Reunions are all about. Don't miss yours. 


#1 - What I Learned at My 50th High School Reunion – One Person’s Take



We graduated in May of 1958. We were all so glad for that long-anticipated event to arrive. Once it was over we quickly scattered in our own directions without a thought to the fact that we were seeing some of our classmates for the last time. We had no way of knowing that in a few short years several of our classmates would be gone or that by the 50th anniversary of our graduation, over one third of our members would no longer be living.


There is a reason only older people attend class reunions. They know.


The recent graduates are still in college somewhere or serving Uncle Sam or trying to get established in low-paying jobs and can't afford the trip back home. But mostly they don't come to reunions because they haven't figured it out yet.


They think they have forever. They think of the rest of us as oldsters, like ancient relics of a previous civilization that has no bearing on the world they live in today. They have no idea that the time between now and their fiftieth will seem like weeks. They will still be looking upon themselves as the younger generation when suddenly their twentieth reunion will be announced in the newspapers.


If they're like me, the twentieth will be the first reunion they attend. And if they're really like me, they will open the door and look in that room, taking in all the bald heads and unfamiliar faces, and decide this can't be my class and walk on down the hall looking for the real class. They will soon realize there is no one else in the building and that this is their class.


That's the moment when they start to grow up.


Their real education begins then. Everything up to that moment has been prep school. Today is the first day of class. This school does not let out for the rest of their lives.


As I see it, here are the lessons they begin to learn and the lessons that were firmly entrenched by the time of our fiftieth reunion.



1) Old friendships are pure gold.


Lynn Pope and I shared one of those old-fashioned double desks at Poplar Springs Elementary in the school term of 1951-52. A two-room affair run by a husband and wife, three grades in each room, this school had changed very little from the days my mother attended its predecessor a mile down the highway. Next year, Lynn and I moved on to Double Springs for junior high. He is the sole classmate with whom I shared seven years of schooling.


We thought of Double Springs as "town." We were rural and most of the others in the class were "town," as though of another species. The truth is most of our class members were bused in from outlying areas of the county the same way we were. There were 100 of us at the start of the seventh grade. Six years later, we were just over 50 strong, the 50th graduating class of that school.


If you can imagine having one fifty or more brothers and sisters, that was us. We did just exactly what siblings do too -- we fought and argued, we laughed and went on trips and played games, we teased and cried and worked alongside each other. Over the years, we came to learn that these are the dearest people on the earth.



2) People are precious.


A Catholic priest said something at a funeral in my town not long ago. I jotted it down and have quoted it ever since. "At the end of your life, the only things that will matter are faith, family, and friends."  Amen!


When Winona Guthrie died some 25 years ago, even though we were never what you would call close friends, I made the drive to Birmingham for her funeral. I just thought someone from her high school class ought to be there. I was the only one, as I recall. To my surprise, her mother said, "She often spoke of you." I was touched, and so glad I had come.



3) Life is short.


Out of all the teachers who invested their lives in us, only two attended our 50th reunion. Loyce Whitson and Cleta Steele (can't recall her "new" last name) taught us science and proper English usage. Or tried to. Mostly, what I recall is how much they treasured us. Not an easy task, granted. They saw through the swagger and bluster, the shallowness and immaturity, and loved us the way we were.


Eighteen of our class have died. Donald Howell--we called him "Doodle"--was the life of any party and kept us all in stitches. In the senior annual where group photos of various clubs are found, Doodle is the one surreptitiously giving the finger to the photographer. He was the first to go, speeding in his old '56 Ford, hitting a patch of gravel and losing control. Ila Faye Richardson was the last, so far. Quiet, shy, and sweet. In recent years, she sent Christmas cards to class members from her home in Indiana. I didn't know she had died until I went to the class reunion.


4) There's a lot to be said for stability.


My friend Bryan Harris attended more than forty schools, as his family moved around Texas. My three Metairie grandchildren live in the only house they've ever known, but they have attended three elementary schools, and four, if we count the time their mother home-schooled them. But, from the 7th through the 12th grades, my education took place in one building with some of the same teachers all the way through.


At the time we probably thought it was boring, attending the same school all the time. Some of it was, but that's good, too. There's a lot to be said for sameness.



5) The high school you is not the real you.


You're still in embryo in high school; in spite of the drivers license and your afternoon job and the responsibilities you are beginning to assume. The senior pictures are not the real you. Those are the pre-you. You're still becoming who you will be. You were--and still are, incidentally--a work in progress.


Harold Brownlow was a goof-off in high school. Tall and slim and handsome--over the years, every time Louis L'Amour would describe his hero in a western novel, to my mind he was talking about Harold. Brownlow was popular with the girls, cool in every way a high school boy wants to be cool, and completely uninterested in anything happening in the classroom. The first reunion he attended was the fiftieth. He flew in from Indonesia. Still tall, still slim, and now sporting a white beard down to his chest. What had he been doing all those years? Working in agriculture development all over the world. He became somebody who did something significant with his life. Congratulations, friend.


Pity the person who gets "frozen" in high school and never grows beyond it.


I've run into a lot of people over the years who say they don't go back to their high school reunions because "I'm not the same person I was then." I tell them, "No one is.   We've all changed. Go back and let them see what a super person you are. Surprise your teachers. Show that girl who rejected you what a foolish thing she did!"



6) To your class, you'll always look like you did a half-century ago.


I said to the wife of one of the alums, "I know you look around at all these 68-year-olds and think how old we look, but the truth is, you're the only one who sees that. The rest of us see each other as teenagers when we played Elvis records in the school gym for a sock hop, and cheered the football team and went on field trips. To us, everyone in this room is a teenager."



7) By now, you are beyond showing off. You no longer have anything to prove.


Before leaving home for the reunion, I put my car in the shop and asked the mechanic to check it out thoroughly. It's a 2005 Camry with 105,000 miles on it and has never given me a bit of trouble. But I knew it was past time for a complete checkup. Then I rented a car. When the rental guy drove it around front, it turned out to be a BMW "sport station" with 700 miles. We're talking new and we're talking impressive. I joked that anyone going to his high school reunion needs to rent a BMW to show off a little.


The fact is, no one even sees what kind of car you drive to these things. And I guarantee you, no one cares. Cadillac Escalade or 1949 pickup truck. No one cares. That was high school stuff, trying to impress your peers with a car. No more. The guy driving the expensive car can have it rented or leased and therefore it doesn't prove a thing. The guy driving the old clunker may be showing he finds better things to do with his money than invest in cars which depreciate faster than white bread.



8) The peer pressure is gone now. Be yourself.


Our class members long ago often said or did things because of peer pressure. As we’ve matured, we realize that peer pressure isn’t important. The most important thing is to be yourself and be comfortable with who you are.



9) These class members are pretty special people, and were then, too.


Our class talks about Andy Davis. He was a coach and English teacher for our first years, then principal for the final two or three years. A tough exterior with a gruff voice, but basically a nice guy. He was wrong on one thing I recall so well. I said to him once, "Mr. Davis, why can't our school have student body officers the way other high schools do?" It seemed a logical request. He said, "Because you all do not deserve it." I really think he saw us as the rural unsophisticated kids we were, but could not see beyond that.


After we graduated and went off to college, several of our classmates were promptly elected to student government positions. That should have told him something. He's no longer with us now, but in those days I found myself hoping the local paper--that would be the Northwest Alabamian out of Haleyville--ran those little announcements heralding our college achievements. Just so he would know.



10) It's never too late to repair a relationship, to ask for forgiveness, or to thank someone.


At our 40th class reunion, I was so pleased to see Dixie. She and her husband had driven a long distance to be there for what was her first reunion, I think. We were in a restaurant and I called her off to one side. "There's something I need to talk to you about." She was puzzled. I said, "When we were in the seventh grade, I stole some money from you." She said, "No. Not you. Anyone on earth, but not you."


I explained how it had happened. The first few weeks of the seventh grade while I was getting my bearings, I ran with a certain older boy who failed year after year, but was still in my class. We even played hookey some afternoons. One day, he pointed out the way Dixie had left her billfold on top of her books underneath the desk. "If you will reach under there and lay the billfold on that empty desk behind her, she'll walk out and leave it. Later, I'll divide the money with you." I did it. That afternoon, he handed me three or four dollars.


I told that to Dixie and said, "You would think I would have made it up to you a long time ago, and I'm ashamed I didn't. I want you to forgive me....and I want you to take this twenty dollar bill." She said, "I don't recall any of this. Of course, I'll forgive you, but I am not taking your money!"  I said, "You have to take it so I'll have peace about it." She said, "My husband and I are active in a Christian ministry, so I'll put it in that."


A couple of weeks later, I received a note from her that she had bought a half dozen Bibles with that twenty.


When you’re 18 years old, anything seems possible. Maybe you’ll cure cancer or write a bestseller or become a star or make a million—if only you can get into the right college.


When you're 68 years old, you've gained a certain amount of wisdom just by traveling over the bumps in the road. These are the lessons we learned from all these years, and the ones the younger folks are still hammering out.

 When you’re 68, you know how your life will turn out, and for so many, that fifty years after graduation brought loss and heartbreak, illness and disabilities, but in spite of that, almost every one of the classmates I talked to said "I have been truly blessed" or a similar sentiment.  


So, lastly, why is my affection for all these people so extravagant, what are some reasons nobody forgets their high school years?

This was the place I grew up.

This is my spiritual home.

This was the place where I was safe.

This is the ground where the seeds of later life got sowed.

These were the people who were the anvils upon which I  

     forged who I was and what I would become.

These people were the loving teachers of all the really

     important lessons of living and of life.


To forget your high school years is to amputate a major part of you. It isn't over, of course. The members of my class, they teach me yet.

They teach me now of the importance of holding life in


They teach me the critical importance of enjoying the

     moment and living well in it.

They teach me the strength of humility, the futility of pride

     and the emptiness of achieving money and power and

     status at the price of soul.


And most of all, they teach me gratitude.


God bless them all.