Reflections on a 30 Year High School Reunion

When I told some friends that I was going to my class reunion, some people were perplexed.  “Why would you want to relive that period of your life?” they mused.  I understand that for many (myself included) the insecurities and emotional roller coaster of adolescence is not a ride that a sane person would want to stand in line for again. 

There is also an unfair stereotype that those who enjoy class reunions are people who, for unfortunate reasons, hold being 15-18 years old as the high point of their lives.  For the record, I highly doubt that any of my classmates fall into this category.  Perhaps my class was exceptional (and we like to think we are) but after having a blast at my class reunion, here are some reason I think that when you get the invitation to your class reunion you should consider going:

  1. People actually grow up – In my mind, the most annoying people in my class were stuck in my memory at 18 years old.  But, as it turns out, most people mature, have difficult life experiences, become quite a bit more humble, and develop into decent human beings.  Yes, there are exceptions, but overall it is nice to see people grow into the kind of people that are enjoyable to be around. 
  2. Tapping into One’s Inner Existentialist – High School does not determine who you will be for the rest of your life.  However, it is ONE aspect of a person’s life that is influential in the kind of persons that we become.  Victor Frankel says that it is not events that shape our lives but how we INTERPRET those events; i.e. - how we give meaning to those events.  This is true whether or not you are a Holocaust survivor (like Frankel) or just a High School survivor.  It is not good or bad things that enable us to grow, but the interpretation of those events. 

One’s experience, even painful ones, can be understood as a way to move to a better way of living.  Some things that I “tried on” in high school really didn’t “fit”.  But trial and error is the usual path in discovering the way in which we were created. 

My reunion was a great way to recognize much of what I thought was important in adolescence was utterly ridiculous.  In another 30 years (if I’m still around), I wonder what issues that I am losing sleep over now I will find silly?    

3. Friendships – I am sure that there is some kind of brain research somewhere that demonstrates that when you are an adolescent, you are more open to other people.  Some of the quickest and deepest friendships I have made are from my adolescence.  A tragic aspect to our culture is that adult men are not very good at making or having friends. At my reunion, I had some remarkably deep and personal conversations with some men.  The impression I got was that they have very few people that they get below the surface with.  Our high school years are that rare window of time in which we open our hearts and souls to others quickly and effortlessly.  It can be life-giving to experience it again, even if for just a weekend. 

4. Cautionary Tales and Remarkable People – After 30 years, the long term results of good and bad decisions become very evident in people’s lives.  People in our class died because of chemical dependency; others lived on but left in their wake a path of destruction.

On the other side of the fence, there were people who were not brilliant or uber-talented but they learned to steadily plod on and do the right thing.  Over time, their steady plodding has resulted in some very good outcomes for their lives.  They are centered, happy, and have deep and rewarding interpersonal relationships. 

In many ways, people don’t change.  The same core personality that we are at 18 is still there at 48 (and it is funny to observe it at a reunion!).  But in some ways people DO change – we head down a path of what seems like a series of very inconsequential decisions that shapes us into who we will become.  I doubt any of us had any idea of the weight of our decisions at 18 years old.  I hope I can help my young adult children to appreciate this. 

Dana Hicks