Lots of people look forward to high school reunions, others dread them, and still others just avoid them altogether.
My brother falls squarely into the third category. As he says, “If I was that eager to see you, I wouldn’t have waited five years.”
Now that we have Facebook, we already know who gained weight and who went bald, so what else do we really need to see? Maybe that’s why reunion attendance nationwide has dropped dramatically.
But I like reunions. Yes, high school was often traumatic, producing a psychological state whereby you could think everyone really is focused on your bad hair day, because what else could possibly be more important?
But on the whole, I liked high school. I liked most of my classes – from Humanities to Home Building – I had a lot of great teachers, and I made more than a few lifelong friends. Perhaps most important, it was in high school that I started to learn what I really cared about, what I didn’t, and how to be myself.
But a high school reunion can test all those things, and throw us back into the same state that traumatized us the first time. A friend of mine, who was tough and popular, hasn’t attended any reunions, mainly, he told me, out of fear. Despite my cajoling, he didn’t show up for this one, either.
I can understand why. At our fifth year reunion, we were just older versions of our high school selves, who still hadn’t really done anything. We got better each successive reunion, but too often simply replaced our status as football heroes and homecoming queens with our new cars, careers and kids’ achievements. Given the depth of actual interaction, we could have achieved the same effect by exchanging our resumes like baseball cards.
But at the 30th, we focused more on each other than ourselves. Yes, we talked about kids and careers, but simply to bring each other up to date, not to brag, often with a nice self-effacing story. Once we got past the surface, we quickly learned that no one’s life went according to plan -- no one’s – and we all had some dreams crushed along the way and had to regroup. It’s made us better people.
I didn’t hear anyone reach back into their glory days, instead we spent our time sharing stories about all the stupid things we did during those three very intense years. We played our music – from “Brick House” to the very first rap songs – the stuff your kids call “Oldies,” and we call “High school.” Good luck explaining Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five.
One of my friends had the bright idea of bringing her yearbooks – and not just from high school, but junior high, too. Say what you will about the inanity of high school, junior high is even more awkward.
We had written phrases in the books like, “Have a bomb summer!” and, “Don’t ever change!”
Are you kidding me? “Don’t ever change”? There was nothing about me I didn’t want to change.
In eighth grade, I was probably 5' 2'', maybe 80 pounds, with the occasional death-defying pimple I was absolutely certain everyone in the school had stopped their lives to discuss in great detail.
But all these years later, just about everything has changed – thank God. Heck, I’m now a strapping 5-foot-8! Not braggin’. Just sayin’.
At a 30th reunion, “Don’t change” doesn’t sound so bad – but watching our parents, we know there are a bunch of changes coming. As a consolation prize, I still have my hair. So that’s something. Let’s see if that’s still there in five years.
But maybe my hair, then and now, isn’t so important after all. Perhaps the main thing is to connect. And that’s what we did Saturday night. It’s a simple thing, but it does something profound to us – bringing us back to our
first friends, and our original selves.
I gained a new respect for that guy, who knew a few things his older self had almost forgotten.
I’m looking forward to seeing my old friends again.
John U. Bacon is Michigan Radio’s Sports Commentator. Views expressed by Bacon are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.