“You are actually going to your high school reunion?” a friend asked recently. “Doesn’t Facebook make reunions pointless? I could never imagine wanting to relive my high school days.”
My 25th high school reunion was two weeks ago and it was surprisingly glorious.
I grew up in a large, Connecticut town, known for its old and new money, beautiful exclusive beaches, and easy commute into New York City. I lived there from the age of 1 until 24.
If I had to categorize myself by Molly Ringwald high school movie standards, I was Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles (without Jake Ryan of course, because he was a fictional boyfriend who only served to make every teenage girl of a certain age lament the idea that no one THAT perfect exists in real life.) I wasn’t very popular like Molly in The Breakfast Club, or a wrong-side-of-the-tracks outcast like Molly in Pretty in Pink. I was somewhere in the middle, just trying to fit in, with a few close friends, like Molly’s character, Samantha Baker.
My graduating class had over 550 students and were known by where they sat in the acre-wide student center, used before school, at lunch, and during breaks.
The jocks sat on the southeastern side of the student center as you entered it, with many of the pretty, popular girls nearby. The goths and alternatives were called Tree People because they hung out by a big indoor tree near the library. The stoners hung out by the window on chairs at the south side of the center. The smart nerds and not-so-smart nerds were scattered throughout. There were big-haired girls who liked metal and big-haired girls who didn’t – both groups mostly sat by the science wing in the northeastern section of the center. Those who hair-sprayed together, sat together, I suppose. The smoking section outside was probably the most diverse group as they were united by their collective need for a daily nicotine high.
My friends and I sat somewhere in the middle. We didn’t fit neatly into one category. Mostly we were just trying to get through our awkward years intact until we could morph into less self-conscious adults.
As the years passed, I stayed close to several friends from that time, though we all live in different places now and don’t get together often enough. I also became friendly with some folks from those other areas of the student center through summer and post-college jobs. In my current home town in northern Virginia, one of my closest friends is someone I barely knew in high school and unfairly judged initially as unapproachable simply based on where she sat in the student center at the age of 17. I found I had much more in common with her and the others than I realized.
When social media took off and reconnected us, we were in our early thirties. Some of us had children, some didn’t, but instead of caring about who was financially successful, our messages to each other involved reminiscing about our childhoods, asking how each other’s families were, and bonding over the shared life experiences of being a certain age and raised in the same place.
As the reunion approached, I still had some apprehension about the event even though some of my closest friends would be there. I thought I was past caring what other people thought of me but still I wondered: would some of those folks who hadn’t been very kind to me back in high school even acknowledge me? Did I look attractive or fashionable enough compared to the others? Would I have anything to say to those with whom I was once friends but hadn’t seen or spoken to in 25 years?
The answers were mostly a resounding yes. I eased back into conversations with old friends like no time had passed. While a few of the women who sported resting bitch faces in high school, donned active bitch faces, many more were warm and kind and expressed that they had their own apprehensions about the evening. Some of the guys very obviously peaked in high school, though others still had the same kind smiles and warm eyes. Those eyes now show a greater depth – something that often comes with time and experience.
Many of us have had to overcome some hardship in our lives. We’ve either dealt with divorce, fought a serious illness, grieved over the death of a friend, parent, spouse, or even child. In my case and I’m sure others, overcome a difficult bout with depression and anxiety. Few people reach 25 years out of high school completely unscathed. These experiences make us empathetic and human. There were genuine tears shed that night over classmates who, through bad luck or poor choices, tragically didn’t live long enough to make it to 25 years out of high school.
A friend who didn’t go to the reunion asked me for salacious gossip. Without going into too much detail, there was a (male) wardrobe malfunction, mindless chatter over who might have had Botox or drank too much, and one woman did the Worm on the dance floor in her dress (which I personally thought was awesome). I myself went Low Low Low Low to songs by Flo Rida, Wrexx-N-Effect, and other hip-hop artists even though the next day, my legs were screaming No No No No. (Note: The recovery time after a late night of dancing is noticeably longer 25 years after you graduate from high school.) There were a few flirtatious comments made that probably walked the line between eye-rolling and flattering. Basically, it was a typical scene of a bunch of early-40-somethings cutting loose without our regularly scheduled parenting and adult responsibilities getting in the way.
Attending your high school reunion is obviously not everyone’s cup of tea. If you moved around a lot and wouldn’t recognize anyone from high school if they hit you in the face, it’s probably not for you. And if you were bullied mercilessly back then and just the thought of potentially seeing your former tormentors makes you break out in a cold sweat, it goes without saying that it might not be the best idea to attend.
Overall for me, the reunion was a celebration of memories, an honoring of the passage of time, and a chance to let go of some old insecurities and assumptions about others.
It was a whole lot of fun and I’m so glad I went.