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.