I almost didn’t go. After all, until her death twelve years ago, my mom kept me up on all the hometown gossip about people I knew (and didn’t know). West Branch, Michigan, has about 2,000 people and my class at West Branch High School graduated 105 kids in 1966. I figured I’d kept in touch with a few of my closest friends, so what would be the point of traveling a thousand miles from my home in Braselton, Georgia, to see a bunch of old folks I hardly remember?
But after perusing classmates’ Facebook pages with fun old photos, I decided what the hell I’d go.
I had a blast, which brings me to my list of 5 reasons you, too, should attend your 50th – or 40th or 60th or whatever – high school reunion.
- There is a sense of community amongst classmates. I suppose most classes feel that way, but I was gobsmacked with the sense of camaraderie amongst my classmates. Once I got past the changed faces and physiques, and started remembering people by their voices, I felt like we’d never missed a beat. A number of them and I went from kindergarten to graduation together. There is even one man who was born the same day as me in our hometown hospital and we’ve always known that the nurses switched us, giving each of us to the wrong mother for our first breastfeeding. So he and I have been connected since day one of our lives.
Later on as I reflected upon this feeling of community, I realized that now that many of our parents have passed on, we have no one to share memories of our youth with other than each other. No one else on earth shares our schoolhouse experiences. We can recall the lavender scent of our kindergarten teacher, the jiggle of our third grade teacher’s fat arms, and the joy of shooting off our first rocket in eighth grade. Art class, dance day, playground, cursive, health and safety… Somehow as little kids we navigated the nuances of pending adulthood and survived together.
And when we were young we could never have anticipated the war to come in a land we had yet to ever hear of: Vietnam. Soon after graduation many boys were drafted and went to war. We reminisced about those who never returned. That kind of communal grief would be hard for anyone else to comprehend.
- People get better as they age. If you’d asked my 17-year-old self which of my male classmates would become handsome men, I would have been woefully wrong. What a delightful surprise.
And I thought all of the women were beautiful. Maybe it was just a matter of getting rid of our ‘60s hard hat hairdos, but they were stunning. Fun clothes. Glorious white hair. Pretty skin. Plump, slim, and in-between, they all looked great.
I anticipated as much when we were seniors. I gave the Baccalaureate dinner speech. I have no recollection as to why on earth I was chosen to give that speech – it certainly wasn’t because of good grades – but I do remember being reprimanded afterward. I had said that someday we would come back to our class reunion, curious to see if Rudy still had that wink and Jezebel still had that wiggle. Some of the grown-ups failed to see the humor in that. But I now know I was right. And I still think it’s funny.
- Old wounds really do heal. There was, of course, a lot of typical teenaged angst back in the day. But we couldn’t remember exactly what it was all about. There were jealousies over boyfriends and girlfriends, to be sure, and competitive rivalries over grades and sports, but all of that old animosity has fallen by the wayside in the throes of real life.
Even my neighborhood bully told me she now knows it was wrong of her to blackmail us other kids into paying her to stay out of our yards. Nice admission, although I noticed that she didn’t apologize. I got a kick out of the irony of that.
- Compassion dwells in the hearts of childhood friends. A couple of my classmates have obvious health problems. Rather than pity, however, I saw compassion from others. There was no “poor you,” just concern and caring.
There was also empathy for those who have lost loved ones, especially a child. As one man put it, many of us share the bond of having experienced “the worst day of our lives.”
I suspect by now we’ve all been through so many heartbreaks and disappointments that nothing surprises us. Rather than waste time feeling sorry for anyone else or for ourselves, we get down to the business of taking care of whatever befalls our friends, with as much love and compassion as possible.
- That graduation speech was right. I don’t actually remember the speaker or anything he said, seeing that I was pissed off during the whole ceremony. Because I’d been skipping school a lot anyway, I’d decided to skip graduation, too. But my mom grabbed me by the arm and made me go. Anyway, I’m sure that like most graduation speeches ours was about forging our way into the future with guts and glory. Well, wouldn’t you know, it does take a lot of guts and glory to be an adult. We rose above the milieu of life, matured for the most part, and muddled our way through.
I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone waxes fantastic about our graduating class. But still, we’re a group who is – for better and for worse – forever bonded together. If nothing else, that reunion was a good time with old friends, fun music, tasty food, and delightful beverages. Go to your reunion and let me know what it’s like for you. I’m curious to see if you enjoy it as much as I did. www.lindahughes.com