Well, it’s that season again. For many of you, a reunion of your high school class is on the horizon and some of you are debating, as you always do, whether you should reveal to those you grew up with that you didn’t write the great American novel or find a cure for anything. And that aging body with all that gray, white, or simply, NO hair! After all, you looked so much better back then. But please believe me, everyone did and no one expects you to have found the fountain of youth.
It’s no secret among my friends and readers that I love high school reunions. Unlike college, law school, med school, art school, etc., many of us have a longer and more complex history with the people who graduated from high school with us. Some relationships date back to elementary and middle school (formerly called “junior high”) or the local park where we took swimming lessons together, or the Little League teams on which we played and had our character molded. Of course, there were those god-awful braces, zits, bad hair styles, and other embarrassments. Like the time the teacher called upon you, you were half awake, and you uttered some inane answer that branded you as the biggest dunce ever for the rest of your high school career, as you remembered it. Or in biology class when you tested the fit of a bean in your ear, ending up in a doctor’s office to get it unstuck. Or when you were the only one who didn’t know to wear school colors on pep rally/football days in junior high. I could go on and on (but won’t).
A middle school guidance counselor once explained to parents during an orientation session that the best way to understand your middle schooler was to keep in mind two letters: M & E, which happen to spell the word ME. Typical middle schoolers, she shared, are only concerned about themselves and how they appear to others. A minor incident or cutting remark can have a much larger impact on their self-esteem than you can imagine. I’d like to suggest that this focus on ME lasts longer than just middle school. Thinking about myself as an example, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the open-minded, considerate-of-others person I am now (trust me on that). I just wanted to be liked and have some fun in the process (and make good grades, too, I must admit). None of us were the “best we could be.”
So, recently, I spent some time with a good friend who was contemplating her 40th (or so) reunion. She was very reluctant to attend, stating that she didn’t want to see these people. “We don’t have anything in common . . . I kept up with the classmates I liked and they are the ones who won’t come anyway!” She seemed to have the whole event gamed out in her head months before the event, which I assured her was not necessarily the way it would turn out. But such concerns are not atypical, as I’ve learned in my years of reunion planning.
I tried to meet her objections with truth, facts, and evidence (lawyer that I am), but I could tell I wasn’t making any headway in convincing her to go. Truth is, I’m rarely successful with the most obdurate anti-reunionists, but our conversation got me to thinking. Is there a better way to intrigue people enough so they might just give going back to high school a try?
As an avid book-lover, what occurred to me is this: How about imagining your classmates as a library full of novels? Chapter One is about birth, the particulars of the parents meeting each other and deciding to start a family. It would also cover the period of learning to talk, taking those first steps, potty-training, and generally, all those events that make parents question their decision to have children.
After the first chapter, subsequent ones would recount the elementary, junior high (or middle school), and high school years. Let’s say these children were busy with dance recitals, baseball championships, scouting, swimming competitions, sad relationship breakups, any of which might pad the book’s chapter count a bit, maybe pushing it up to 7 or 8 chapters. Assuming you haven’t seen a classmate in the intervening years since graduation, as a fellow classmate, you have probably only “read” one or two of those chapters. But remember, their novels, like yours, are going to consist of 40 or more chapters!!!
Maybe it’s just my innate curiosity, but I enjoy reading the missing chapters, e.g., Chapters 20, 25, or 30, and finding my expectations, solely based on Chapters 7 or 8, to be completely upended and totally unrealistic!! As if we were equipped in high school with highly developed sensitivity, prescience, and character judgment. The reality is that once you gather with folks many years later you invariably discover various surprises and plot twists you could have never imagined 40 or so years ago. The reunion offers you the opportunity to sit down with that person and, if nothing else, get the Cliffs Notes version of past chapters. And did I mention that a lot of single people end up marrying a former classmate they reconnected with at a reunion? That’s called “buying the hardback!”
I know it’s the oldest cliche in the world: you can’t judge a book by its cover. Similarly, you can’t judge a person by his/her first few chapters. If that were true, who would ever finish a book? The fun part is having your expectations turned upside down by the introduction of a new character or plot development you didn’t see coming.
Speaking from experience, I am constantly surprised by former classmates who come to the reunions. Who knew the shy girl who was a whiz in algebra class would end up being a big-firm litigator (inside joke: lawyers are lousy in mathematics)? That the wise-cracking, short guy would be a nationally known playwright whose height is totally acceptable and whose wise cracks have turned to great wit? That the prim and proper straight A-student would end up leading a country western band when she wasn’t acting on television? I guess the only non-surprise I remember from high school was that Ben Crenshaw (a grade ahead of me) would have a golfing career, but I bet he may have an interesting chapter or two we haven’t heard about. All in all, the reunion is full of so many books with so much potential . . . isn’t it worth a trip to study hall again?
And if you are still not convinced, because you don’t like the ways your appearance has changed, I have just one question: do you really think that you grew up with individuals who all turned into beautiful people in the intervening 30 or more years? Let me promise you, if you show up clean and relatively well groomed, no one will give your looks a second thought!! (Caveat: unless you went to the same plastic surgeon as Kim Novak and Goldie Hawn.) Take it from me, as long as you stay on this side of the grass, your classmates will be glad to see you just the way you are!!
Find more reunion tips (from me) at https://jeffeepalmer.com/2010/05/08/where-everyone-knows-your-name/