June 17, 2010

High School Gets Better When You're Middle-Aged

My last post about the popular girls in high school generated a number of comments. One recurring theme in the comments was that a lot of you avoid reunions like the plague. I understand the feelings behind those comments. I worked 20-25 hours a week in high school so even if I had not been as painfully introverted as I was, I didn't have time to do much socializing. I had a handful of friends I was close to, and beyond that, I really didn't care if I ever saw the rest of my classmates again. I was so done with the class as a whole that I didn't even go to graduation, opting instead to visit family in Chicago.

Throughout my 20s, I ran into classmates from time to time, and I discovered something. It wasn't awful. I had one of those encounters 9 years after graduation and this particular classmate mentioned that a group was getting together to start planning the 10-year-reunion and she wondered if I'd like to help.

I think I looked at her with a frozen smile but I don't remember if any words came out of my mouth. She was one of those student government types who was also into speech and debate and was very persuasive, so whether or not I responded verbally, somehow I wound up committed to showing up for the first reunion meeting.

There turned out to be a very big group interested in helping with that reunion. Despite my lack of involvement in high school, I knew a lot of them. It wasn't as painful as I had expected. It was actually okay but I was still introverted by nature and it occurred to me during that meeting that if I didn't have a job at the reunion - a reason why I had to be there - I wouldn't show up. And there were a handful of people I wanted to see so I decided I would commit to helping.

Our high school was unique in the community. One building housed both a junior high and a high school so many of us had spent 6 years together, from 7th to 12 grades. There were others who had come from feeder schools in the 10th grade. Even though we hadn't all known each other well, there were countless shared memories. During the year that we worked on planning that reunion, I began to realize the power of those common memories, and how strong a bond they can create. At the same time, we were creating new memories together, memories that would strengthen that bond.

The reunion came, and it was a typical 10-year-reunion. Most of us (probably all of us) reverted to our high school roles. In many ways, it was every horrible thing that people dread about a 10-year reunion.

Except for one thing. I had made a friend in kindergarten and we had remained friends even when I moved away in the 4th grade. We wrote letters back and forth, and I would spend a night or two at her house whenever we came back to visit family. When we moved back in the 6th grade, she and I picked up where we had left off and remained close friends until the 9th grade. Sometime during late winter or spring of 9th grade, we got into a fight in gym. She said things, I said worse things, and before we knew it, there was a rift in our friendship that we could not overcome. We talked politely if we ran into each other after that, but we were no longer friends in high school. We had turned into former friends.

That changed when we saw each other at the 10-year-reunion. The fight we had in 9th grade was forgotten and for the second time in our lives, we picked up where we had left off. By then, she had moved away, but we have kept in touch ever since. When her father died several years later, I was grateful to be able to attend his service and see her family. A few years ago, when 2 separate hurricanes made landfall within a few weeks of one another in the town where she lives, I tracked her brother down at his mountain cabin to find out if she and her family were alright.

She is one of my few adult friends who knew my dad, so the first day I was back at work after he died 6 years ago, I cried when I saw an email pop up from her. She had not known my dad was sick - it was just a forwarded email - and yet, coming from her that morning struck me as a God-thing. I emailed her back and told her my dad had passed away and she was able to respond in a way that no one else could have. If either of us had stayed away from that 10-year reunion, that would not have happened. We'd still be former friends who had lost track of each other.

They say each reunion gets better, and in my experience, that's absolutely true. As anti-social as I was in high school, I have renewed acquaintances and strengthened friendships at every reunion. I continue to work on the committees, because I'm still an introvert who needs a reason to have to show up, but I truly enjoy each reunion more than the one before.

It's true that people revert to their high school roles at the 10-year reunion. It's much less so at the 20-year, and by the 30-year, walls are starting to fall as people are just happy to see each other. They say that by 40-year reunions, the walls are pretty much forgotten. I believe them.

It has been 3 years since our last reunion. Facebook has become a catalyst for drawing us together that we never had before. We are able to keep up with each other, connect with new friends, and find common ground that we never knew existed. I send Farmville gifts to friends whose names I long ago thought had become a permanent part of my past. I find some classmates I agree with politically, others who have the same taste in music, and still others who encourage me with the scripture they post on their walls. I see the news of their families, and I rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn. I see 51-year-old faces on profiles while memories of 15-year-old kids fill my head. Classmates I had not known well all those years ago have become my strongest supporters.

So there you have it from someone who did nothing social in high school. If you want to stay away from your reunions, then that's your choice But recognize that you might be missing out on one of life's greatest blessings...making new friends who will encourage you, and connecting with old friends who matter more to you than you ever knew.


  1. Facebook is probably one of the reasons I don't feel like going to my 30th.

    I'm from a small town and left. I have a much larger world view. Most of the people I knew in HS (which was quite a few) never left the area and they haven't changed much. So what teenager bonds we had then don't translate to my adult world.

    I have no frame of reference for talking about working the the shops, raising kids, watching questionable TV & movies, music with phrases about pick-up trucks or anarchy, and drinking beers while grilling burgers being the big social activity.

    They have no frame of reference that includes missions, Darfur/Bosnia/Kyrgystan/etc, travel, cultures of other nations, the idea of a Caprese salad or coffee beyond Folgers (or Starbucks for the ones who work in The City), and jazz.

    I know I'm the odd one out. The few people I've connected with via Facebook don't come to the reunions either... feeling as I do.

    The others on FB... I read the wall posts and go "Yeah...OK..." And they are the ones talking about the parties at the upcoming reunion.

    I'll pass.

  2. So well said, Margaret, and it's true about the 40 yr reunion. Those 58/18 year old faces have shared a part of your life no one else has, and now they feel like extended family.

  3. Thanks, Virginia. I know people who have avoided all of their reunions have a hard time believing it, but I know it's true.

    Teri - I can only imagine what it's like from a smaller class. I'm sure the dynamic is different, but if you and your friends were to try, you might find that God can use you to bless others.

  4. margaret,

    this very gently encouraged us that to have a friend
    you have to be a friend. i respect how much time
    and effort you have sewn into each of us, not matter
    where we fit onto the high school ladder.

    if there were a ladder today, you would be on the
    very top rung. :)

  5. Thank goodness that darn ladder is gone...

    Margaret =)

  6. Hmmm I'm not sure where I was on the ladder... all over the place I think! I was friends with people from a lot of different cliques. Our "popular girls" weren't mean at all, but they did kind of keep to themselves for the most part. They were all in honors classes, and usually pretended to be stupider than they were.

    Great posts that everyone can relate to!

    (I didn't go to my graduation either because I was in Acapulco... don't miss it a bit.)

  7. Gringationcancun-

    Wow...the smart kids were the popular ones? Our smart kids were another group that was genuinely liked, but they weren't at the top. Too bad they thought they had to dumb down.

    Missing graduation doesn't bother me either but I think you picked a better location for your escape. Chicago was cold, even though it was June!


  8. What a great post Margaret! I didn't attend my 10th reunion which was last fall for the many reasons you mentioned here. While I'm sure I would of had fun, my high school class was small (98 people) and in a small suburb. All those bad high school, "I know I'm not popular feelings" crept up and I just couldn't put myself through it. Glad I found this post and blog from The Lady Bloggers Society Tea Party.

  9. Hi, found you through Cheryl, I enjoyed this post.

    It was engaging, and I really wanted to read every word.

    This is an interesting topic to me. I attended one reunion, and the same junk was there.

    Yuk. Why waste my time, you know?

    I'm your newest follower now, good stuff.