Why Go to a Reunion?

 How can I survive my high school reunion?

By Jenifer Goodwin Union-Tribune Staff Writer 8:00 a.m. July 3, 2009  

In life, there are certain things you must deal with once or twice a decade.   Renew your driver's license.  Get a colonoscopy.  Decide if you're going to attend your high school reunion.

Every 5-10 years, you'll probably receive an invitation to revisit the years that you spent wishing away pimples and dreaming about the hottie in homeroom.

If you were prom queen or starting quarterback, if you still have your figure and/or your hair and you're now CEO of a successful corporation, then your only decision will be whether to take the BMW or the Porsche.

But for most everyone else, the thought of seeing all those old faces stirs a potent mixture of curiosity and apprehension.

Will they remember you as an immature, self-centered teenager or will they see the much-improved adult you've become? Have your looks stood the test of time? Will you have anything to say to people you haven't seen in years?

If you're mulling whether or not to attend your reunion, here are some things to consider – and ways to prepare for your journey back in time.

Why am I so nervous?

It's normal to worry that your old classmates will judge you for who you were then, instead of the mature, accomplished adult you are now.

“One thing you have to remember is that everyone is in the same boat,” said Lynn Thompson, owner of Carlsbad-based Reunion Specialists. “You are 10, 20, 30 or 40 years more mature and more experienced. You're not the same person you were, and neither are they.”

My career has had more downs than ups, and I recently got divorced. I don't want to explain all of that.

So what if you've never become a titan of business or renowned brain surgeon? The older you are, the more likely it is that everyone else in the room has suffered their own disappointments, from failed businesses to failed marriages.

Before you go, think about what makes you happy, whether it's your children or your travels, and talk about that.

Should I bring my spouse or significant other?

About half do, half don't, Thompson said. If your spouse or partner doesn't need a lot of your attention at social functions, then go ahead, Thompson said.

If you're worried about not having anyone to talk to, it's also OK to bring a friend or sibling, perhaps someone who graduated another year from the same school, Thompson said.

I've gained a lot of weight and I'm not sure I want anyone to see me.

You can try dieting, exercising and booking your Botox/teeth-whitening appointments. Or you can try not to worry about it so much.

In a survey of 277 adults before and after they attended reunions, many expressed fears about being judged harshly by their former classmates.

Yet hardly anyone said they were interested in doing that to others, said Glenn Reeder, a professor of psychology at Illinois State University.

“People get nervous when they think the purpose of the reunion is to show other people how successful they are, or compare who's gained weight,” Reeder said. “But that's not why most people go.”

What should I wear?

Choose an outfit that's flattering and comfortable, and cross your fingers that the organizers haven't chosen a tropical theme. Floral dresses and Hawaiian shirts don't do anyone any favors.

Women can't go wrong with a simple dress and heels. For men, a dress shirt, slacks and maybe a jacket will work.

There will always be one guy wearing shorts and flip-flops and one woman in a fire-engine red, sequined number. Let it not be you.

I was part of the “in” crowd in high school. Frankly, I wasn't always so nice.

Whether you were the geek or the snob, well, they don't call it adolescent behavior for nothing. Some people apologize for past behavior in their reunion bios, Thompson said.

I was not part of the “in” crowd. In fact, I remember high school as something to be endured.

If there are wounds that haven't fully healed, use the event as an opportunity to replace those old memories with new ones.

Some of those old classmates have probably grown into people you will like a lot better today than you did then.

I'm still feeling unsure. Give me one good reason why I should go.

Reunions can be great for rekindling old romances and networking. But the main reason to go is that you'll probably have a good time.

In the survey of reunion attendees, nearly everyone reported having fun.

“The older the respondent was, the more they enjoyed the reunion,” Reeder said. “As you age, you're a long way from those high school cliques and are just happy to make connections with people you once knew.”

Jenifer Goodwin

A MATTER OF LAUGH OR DEATH (credit to Doug Platt, Bethel HS,CT)

Come to think of it, not much has changed in 35 years

It’s hard to believe it has been 35 years since Graduation Day, 1975. It’s hard to believe after this many years, we continue to say, “It’s hard to believe…” What did we think, that we were immune to the passage of time?

That we would remain forever in our 20s? That we were the first genera­tion in history that would not wake up one day and discover we were now in our 50s, and our kids are older than we were when we graduated?

Yes, that’s exactly it. We never thought we’d ever get old. Or, at least, we never thought it would happen so darn quickly. There’s an old expres­sion: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Well, there’s another old expression: The more things change, the more they REALLY change.

Here is a list that demonstrates how much things indeed have changed during the past 35 years.

Each couplet describes something we were doing back in 1975, followed by what we instead are doing now in 2009.

Sociology exam – Prostate exam.

Going to sleep at 4 a.m. – Waking up at 4 a.m.

Keg parties – Tupperware parties.

Long hair – No hair.

Hot dates – Hot flashes.

Hours of enjoyment with a $4 Fris­bee – Hours of frustration with a $900 set of golf clubs.

Progressive politics – Progressive bifocals.

Getting high – Getting high blood pressure.

Beer kegs that flowed to the max – Bladders in desperate need of FLO­MAX.

Lying to our parents about what we did in high school – Lying to our children about what we did in high school.

Starting Saturday night at 10 p.m. – Concluding Saturday night at 10 p.m.

Poli Sci – PoliGrip.

Studying ancient history – Remem­bering ancient history. Thinking people in their 30's were old timers – Thinking people in their 30's are young pups.

Hundreds of vinyl albums stored in a heavy wooden crate – Hundreds of digital albums stored in a 2-ounce iPod.

Hoping we wouldn’t have to move back in with our parents – Hoping our kids won’t move back in with us.

Greek fraternities – Grecian formu­la.

Wishing our parents would leave us alone – Wishing our kids would call once in a while.

Amazed at Bruce Springsteen’s en­durance during a 3-hour concert – Amazed at Bruce Springsteen’s en­durance during a 3-hour concert.

Bushy mustache – Bushy ear hair.

Deciding where to live – Deciding where to be buried.

Trying to discover the meaning of life – Trying to discover the meaning of death.

Focused on finding happiness – Re­alizing happiness comes when we stop focusing on it.

Now that the Class of ‘75 has ac­quired age and guile, we too under­stand that the experience gained during the past three decades far out­weighs youth, innocence, and especial­ly those hideous 1970s-style haircuts.

Which brings us to our final 1975-2010 couplet .

Thinking people in their 50's were ancient fossils – Knowing people in their 50's are just hitting their prime.

Well, at least that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.


MEMORY LANE - a stressful walk by Adrian McCoy

"High school reunions can be a time to renew old friendships and relive glory days.

But for some, an impending reunion can spark sheer terror, bringing on desperate crash diets and some tough self evaluation.  Any, for many, a reunion can give way to a tendency to embellish the truth a bit.

Especially susceptible to such problems are the 5 and 10 year reunion-goers, for whom salary comparisons and claims for overnight promotions are fodder for any number of television sitcoms. "At the earlier reunions, they're still on the road to their own life," says Alan Dezen, executive director of The Counseling Center in Bloomfield, Pa.  But those attending 5 and 10 year reunions, he said, have become "somewhat established in their careers, but they don't feel completely secure."

So getting ready for a reunion can be stressful. "You haven't had contact with these people for 10 years," says Dezen.  "People try to pick up where they left off, and they regress momentarily to when they were 17." Even confident, self-assured types may find themselves feeling pangs of teen angst, he says.

But, happily, reunions tend to lose some of the threatening qualities as years go by, gradually becoming more of a party than a milestone, says Bob Crytzer, a professional reunion organizer. "As you drift away from that (5 to 10 year) time frame, it becomes more of a reunion in the true sense.  People put aside their egos." By the 10th or 20th, for example, the cliques that existed in high school are totally dissolved.

By then, however, one problem may be replaced by another.  For example, Dezen says, by the 20th year reunion many classmates may be going into mid-life crisis, "looking to rekindle something from their youth that they feel is missing."

Dr. Douglas Schiller, a psychologist who has survived his 20th year reunion, has some insights into why mid-life reunions can be such an emotional experience.

For one thing, he said, people attending a 20 year reunion aren't always prepared to see friends looking more like their parents than their yearbook pictures.  "The first thing people notice at the 20th reunion is that people look older," he says.  "One is immediately struck by the passage of time."

The 40, 50 and 60 year reunions tend to have less pressure associated with them.  By then most have stopped seeing reunions as a kind of yardstick for personal achievement and are ready to have fun. But then these can be stressful occasions, too: usually death has claimed former classmates. 

The best advice for any reuniongoers, whether you're 23 or 83: 
lighten up and enjoy it.  "It's one evening.  You probably won't see these people again, or at least not for 10 years," Dezen says.  "What you say or do isn't going to make any difference.  You might as well have a good time."