A few weeks ago I went to a high school reunion. Not mine, but Rob's. His 20th. We went with his brother and his wife, and our friend Alyse and her boyfriend. The 6 of us see each other on a regular basis, so you might wonder why we would shell out $60 or $80 for a hotel buffet dinner and $8 for each watered down drink or glass of wine, when we could BBQ at home much cheaper. Curiosity, maybe? A night out away from the kids, perhaps? Off we went.
Rob and his brother will both tell you that they were not "popular" in high school, although they played baseball and knew many people in their class. They will also both tell you that there weren't many sets of identical twins wandering around the halls of their high school, so they were easy to pick out. (If I had a dollar for every time someone comes up to us in the San Fernando Valley and says "you're one of the Cohen boys, aren't you?"...)
At one time, Rob told me that he thought there had been about 500 in his graduating class. Last night, figures of 800 or 900 were thrown around. I'm not about to go count all of the pictures in his yearbook, so let's just say that it was a big class. Despite the large number of graduates, only about 60 people showed up for the reunion. Disappointing? Surprising? Hard to say. Definitely interesting, when you consider that at least 1/3 of the attendees were spouses or guests and not actually graduates. If you stick with a conservative estimate, that 45 were alumni and say there were 600 in the class, that's about 7 and a half percent. Where was the rest of the class ?!?! Funny thing, knowing Rob for as long as I have, I actually know where at least 3 other graduates are - one is in New Jersey, 1 is in Germany (obvious why they did not come) and 1 is in the Valley somewhere - we're just not sure why he did not come. (We see him fairly regularly too.)
On the drive home, we started to talk about why the reunion was so poorly attended and why people don't want to go to high school reunions. It seems that three reasons seem to come up when anyone talks about high school or their reunions. The first (and probably easiest) answer - Facebook. Some people think that connecting on social media eliminates the need to connect on a personal level. They believe that they know all that they need to know about their classmates from being "friends" on Facebook and do not need more information. The second, "high school sucked." I heard it more than once, people had a miserable experience in high school and do not want to dredge up old memories by having to face the people who tortured them. Tied to this is the sentiment of "I did not want to talk to you then, why would I want to talk to you now?" Or perhaps, "you were a stuck up bitch and treated me like shit then, why would I give you the time of day now?" The third one is fairly common as well - "If I really wanted to see you/ talk to you, I would have remained friends with you and we wouldn't need to come to the reunion to catch up." More on that one later.
Perhaps it is a geography thing, or maybe it comes from being raised in a small town, as opposed to the "big city," but I'm not sure I buy any of those reasons to avoid your reunion. Then again, maybe it is because I spent 12 or 13 years in school with many of my high school classmates, and we basically grew up together. That would certainly be a different experience than those in a big city might have had, with only 2 or 3 friends moving from elementary to junior high and then to high school together.
As for Facebook, I think I'm friends with about 75% of my high school class and some older and younger friends as well. We comment on each other's pictures and extend birthday greetings, but if prompted, I probably would not be able to tell you what many of them do for a living. I do not feel as if I interact enough with them on Facebook to preclude the opportunity to see them in person. I also do not believe that we should allow ourselves to become so dependent on social media for interaction, that we eschew personal interaction. Did you see the Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates? Society had evolved and devolved to such a point that humans stayed hidden in their homes and had robots that went out into the world and did everything for them, and lived their lives. Is that were we are headed, if we rely on social media to connect us?
I also don't accept the "high school sucked" reasoning, if for no other reason than that we were all morons in high school. We were idiots- still teenagers, with no clue how the world worked. We thought we knew everything and we strutted around like we owned the place, while inside, we were geeks and nerds, praying that no one saw the real us. If you think about where you are right now, at 37 or 38 years old, you think back and realize that you knew absolutely nothing about life when you were 17 or 18. Think about all of the living you have done since then and then realize that you can forgive yourself for acting like a bonehead back then. Having kids throws this into even greater perspective, when your kids start acting like boneheads and you ask yourself "I was not that big of a moron, was I?" Odds are, you were. So to those who say that high school sucked, I say that everyone in your class would probably agree. Unless you were the Homecoming Queen, in which case, everything was probably "platinum" for you. Then again, you never know. I had an interesting conversation with a guy in my class, at our 20th, in which he admitted that high school was rough for him. He was incredibly shy and struggled with relationships with girls (even just as friends) and really did not have a good time. My friend and I surprised him when we told him that we both had crushes on him at some point in high school. All we saw was a cute guy who played sports and was "popular" and hung out with other "popular" kids. So you never know how someone else might have viewed that particular life event. Of course, by now, we have probably all seen Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion. (OK, anyone born in the 70s has seen it, as a way to relive our youth in the 80s.) But you get the reference - high school was a hierarchy and every group had its tormentors and tormented. Maybe.
The final reason, that if I wanted to be friends with you, I would have kept in touch, might work better for those who stayed close to home, rather than those who packed up and moved out, but even then I'd argue with the theory. One of Rob's best friends, who he has known since they were both 3, disappeared from their lives for a few years after high school. They randomly reconnected at a college graduation. People grow and move and in some cases, lose touch where they don't mean to. Although I have kept in touch with my "best friend" from high school and a "best friend" from college, I have lost touch (or at least not kept in close contact) with some that I considered very good friends. Some of that might be because of geography and some just because of "life". But that does not mean that I wanted to lose touch with those people or that I actively chose not to continue a friendship. Perhaps a reunion is a way to renew that friendship and see if it can survive the trials and tribulations of being an "adult" (with kids, a mortgage and jobs.)
I went to my 20th last year. Having see the misery etched on Rob's face, of being stuck in Ohio for a long weekend 10 years prior, I left him at home. My best friend and I made a weekend of it, meeting up with other friends to play golf, check out some local wineries and attend the reunion. Of a class of 150, about 27 graduates were at the dinner. (I counted people in the picture.) I think there were a few more who came and went before we took the group shot, and there were a few more who met us at the bar later, having missed the dinner. That is about 18%. Better than Rob's class but still not good.
So what does it take to get people back together after all those years? I don't know if there is an answer. I do know that there were some who I missed seeing at my 10 year reunion and wished that they had been there for our 20th as well. As luck would have it, those who were missed at the reunion are also those who are not on Facebook and so as a class, we seem to have completely lost a connection to them. I would be curious to talk to them, to see why they have avoided reunions (so far), whether it was because they hated high school or didn't want to come back to Ohio. For some, I remember them being popular or rolling with the "in" crowd, so it would be interesting to know why they did not come back.
At the end of Rob's reunion (which found the 6 of us down the street at a bar drinking Scotch and having dessert), the classmates in our group decided that they probably would not go to their 30th and would instead just all get together informally. I shook my head and smiled. I've got a year on them and I'm already looking forward to my next one (not that I want the years to move any quicker, just looking forward to reconnecting with some of those old friends.) I can't wait.