Why Go To a High School Reunion
This weekend is my 22nd-year High School Reunion. The 20-year had to be pushed back due to COVID and so in a way, the excitement and nostalgia and anticipation have been building for this weekend.
The difference for me between my 20th and 10th is that I remember my 10-year. I have something to compare to. The 10 year was exciting and awkward. It was a single night, some friends flew in and we went to the event and then everyone left. The people who showed up were by and large the kids who liked school on some level. It was mostly honor-roll and ASB kids and a few “cool kids”. At the 10-year I had finished my undergraduate (only a few years back), I was an engineer who had travelled some. I had a house that I bought during the great recession. In a way I had done the “big things” and yet I really didn’t feel that far removed from high school. Things feel so different now.
Twenty years later the school itself is different. While some original parts remain, there are new theaters and new sports and new buildings. The school has a similar feeling but it is different as it has nearly tripled in size. Gone are all the old teachers I knew. The students are young enough to be my kids. As I walk the halls, it no longer feels like “my school”; it is familiar but it isn’t mine. There are classes where I took classes but they now belong to the teachers and kids of today.
At the same time, I have also transformed. Physically I’m fifteen pounds heavier, I have a lot of grey hairs and missing some as well. My eyes and hearing aren’t bad, but not as great anymore. On the plus side I have a graduate degree, a wife and kids. I’ve travelled the world, accomplished many goals. I’ve attempted, accomplished and failed the dreams I didn’t even have when I graduated. I no longer look forward to a Coachella or Burning Man, but to larger goals: college funds and change to communities to which I belong.
Wandering the halls, in the middle of all of those classmates, in someways I am transported back to when we were there. My social phobias, my insecurities of who I am and where I am rise up. The expectations of where I thought I would be and fear of at some point explaining to people of where I am petrify. I know I shouldn’t but I will ask “what do you do now” at some point. Because what else is there to ask? And yet there is also a calmness and lack of judgement towards others that only comes to someone once they hit forty. What might have been judgement and condescension ten years ago is now happiness to see them, to know that they are well just because they are here and were able to come.
What was surprising was that almost no one really asked that question and those who did didn’t really care about the answer. We were all happy to see each other, to trade stories from back then, to talk about those who could not make it and about how we affected each-other while in high school. It was cathartic.
There was some teacher trepidation. There’s a stupefying fear that many have that they won’t remember you. We have an irrational expectation that no matter how many kids they had over the years and no matter how insignificant your work had been, there’s a fear that they won’t remember you, and that it means that you don’t matter. No other person in the world would make one feel that way. And yet, it is there, making a forty-year-old man fear that one person not remembering them means that they did not exist. It is absurd but these are the thoughts. The reality is that some do remember you, and some don’t. And when they don’t, you realize that what matters is that you remember them, and you remember the impact they made on you and you can tell them that and it will mean to them just as much as it would from a star pupil who is now on Fortune 500 or some other ridiculous metric for success.
Then there are people who changed, or whom you forgot or who forgot you. There’s the awkwardness of “who are you” because after twenty years, we are not so recognizable. That wasn’t there at the 10 year, we still looked like who we were ten years back and now we do but we don’t. But that awkwardness of not remembering soon gives way to discovery of that person. Because in reality, the people you knew back then no longer exist. They had 20 years of life and they changed and the people you meet today are not someone you would have met back then. And so you introduce yourself, and say hello and start to uncover all the people you knew in common, the teachers you had in common the moments where the two of you would have crossed but didn’t, until today. Suddenly, you now have a new friend, from twenty years ago, that you didn’t know you had.
It’s a strange thing, this reunion. It is less a reunion of people, and more of time travel to a place where you were, who you were. As the day neared, there were old boxes I opened and uncovered. I looked through old schedules and report cards, programs from plays and matches. There were pictures from dances and hangouts. Memories poured in that hadn’t been touched in decades.
Some memories uncovered were truly profound. I realized that a few people who showed kindness truly affected me for the rest of my life. A few people who didn’t have to be kind who had some kind of social status treated me with dignity when I didn’t treat myself well, changed my outlook on what it meant to be popular or unpopular, on what it meant as far as expectations.
With each memory I travel back to that person who was, and so I ask myself, who is the person who will come back in ten years? What will I be able to say? Who will be there, who will not? What will I remember and who will I bring. All good questions for then, for the year 2030, a year I hope we all live to that year, because times are such that nothing can be taken for granted. So for now, what is more important is that my wife will have a good time, like the people she meets, and the person I once was. And that the people who meet me again, have something positive to cary with them, for the next ten years.