The benefits of high school reunions
I recently attended the 50th reunion of my high school class. It was certainly fun to reminisce with old friends and to be reminded of youthful carefree days. But what’s the purpose of such events?
In order to go to New York for the day, I had to make many preparations for my husband’s care. I was also aware that some of my peers made a great effort to be present at our luncheon. What drove us to this celebration? What were we celebrating?
Reunions enable many people to gather together with diverse purposes who would ordinarily never find mutual interests. Simply because they were once in school together doesn’t mean they currently have any common ground. Yet the opportunity to review the past and momentarily even relive it is enough to draw the group back together. So despite the difficulty of getting there, we gathered to see who would come, who would look the same and who would be unrecognizable.
Additionally, we linked up with our Israeli cohorts via Skype. Our school was an early Zionist establishment and 16 members of our grade (of 99 students) made aliyah. We had an opportunity to try to decipher the discussion going on in Israel as we communicated with friends and strangers in an apartment there. It was a noisy, fun-filled part of an amusing day. This part made us even more aware of our early education and its Israel connection. At that time, we weren’t conscious of our school’s early remarkable Zionist commitment. Now it became more obvious and noteworthy.
Thus a reunion can bring out unexpected patterns and themes from one’s past. For some, they’re obvious. For others, they’re not worth mentioning. But sometimes the group experience highlights an element so clearly that even if it was acknowledged previously by individuals, the new group experience of knowing brings a heightened sense of identification.
But what can we understand of our varied purposes for a reunion? The school, of course, wanted to fundraise. That’s the purpose of alumni organizations. But what did we, the alumni, want? Did we want to see old friends? I doubt that was the only reason, since we had not looked these people up before. Yet seeing old friends was fun and rewarding. More exciting was reviewing our youthful pranks and fun-filled days. We had good times at school, free from the heavy responsibilities we now face. It’s a good ritual to remind you of that carefree feeling. So reunions are a good thing in and of themselves simply on that level.
Additionally, many people of a certain age long for their youth and in this form of remembrance can engage that lost youth. Certainly there was a lot of that going on. We went around the room recalling some of our precious memories. It was a group exercise – ritual-like – that seemed appropriate. It brought many smiles to our faces, as different reminiscences created a bag full of delight. What better way to celebrate getting older than to spend time with people who only knew you as being young. The vision shared is one of youth without any excuses or apologies.
It’s true that some came to remake their image. They looked better or were smarter. Some had achieved more and were riding their success. But most were just happy to be there – happy to be alive. Given time, it was clear everyone had a story to tell. No one had escaped with a charmed life. Yet for that moment of re-connecting, we were back in our old classroom tormenting the teachers and principals – young and vibrant and eager, ready to face the world. In that context, we could now face each other as grownups.
Going back in time is useful if just for a moment, just for a celebration. The ritual of a reunion is helpful to remind us where we came from and what direction our lives have taken. It’s constructive to meet old friends again and rehash those old stories. They set up a framework for understanding the present as we engage our stories and our identities and proceed to develop the map of expansion that builds upon the best of those old stories.
And perhaps we can re-engage some old friends.