Long-time readers may recall that I’ve tried to build a convincing case for high school reunions hoping folks will attend and end up enjoying them as much as I do. Admittedly, my efforts may be akin to cultivating affection for root canals, but I persist. I believe that if I come up with enough good reasons, maybe I can get some of the fence-straddlers to come down to my side.
Believe me, reunions can be addicting. Our class of ’71 enjoys getting together so much that many classmates clamor for something more than the regular five or ten-year reunion schedule. For example, in April of this year, we held a get-together to celebrate our 65th birthdays, which we advertised as a Medicare Part-EE. We similarly celebrated our 50th and 60th birthdays even without clever names for them.
Obviously, we wouldn’t keep doing this if there weren’t a big group of us who relish spending some hours together, catching up with old friends, hearing forgotten stories, or finding a connection with someone we only knew distantly in our school days (or daze). The most common complaint I hear is that the parties aren’t long enough!
At our last event, I attempted something new – by squinting just right, I could almost envision my fellow students as their younger selves. Instead of schmoozing around on the floor of Scholz’s, we were milling around between classes, after lunch, at a party, or in the Holiday House parking lot. Did those youthful versions, I asked myself, ever imagine we’d be singing ourselves “Happy Birthday” at the ripening age of 65? Hell, no!
But, did we ever think we’d be gunned down at our high school before we could even graduate? Never!
I’m still haunted by Emma Gonzalez’s words at the March for Our Lives describing the reality that she and her surviving classmates at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will face for the rest of their lives:
Six minutes and 20 seconds with an AR-15, and my friend Carmen would never complain to me about piano practice. Aaron Feis would never call Kyra “Miss Sunshine,” Alex Schachter would never walk into school with his brother Ryan, Scott Beigel would never joke around with Cameron at camp, Helena Ramsay would never hang around after school with Max, Gina Montalto would never wave to her friend Liam at lunch, Joaquin Oliver would never play basketball with Sam or Dylan. Alaina Petty would never, Cara Loughren would never, Chris Hixon would never, Luke Hoyer would never, Martin Duque Anguiano would never, Peter Wang would never, Alyssa Alhadeff would never, Jamie Guttenberg would never, Jamie Pollack would never.
I can still see her face as she held the marchers in stillness for the six minutes and 20 seconds of horror that the students endured. As I stood among my treasured friends celebrating our 65th birthdays, I could only add to her list of “nevers” — the murdered students will never celebrate a 10th high school reunion, nor a 20th, 30th, 40th, or, in fact, any. The victims of that Parkland high school shooting will never get together and celebrate their qualification for Medicare cards or any other of life’s milestones.
Our class maintains a list of deceased classmates. I think we started compiling the names and posting them at our 25th reunion. It was a short, partial column with the names of about 10 students, a couple who died before graduation in accidents, a couple of suicides, a flood drowning, a college murder, etc. In the years since then, the “In Memoriam” list has grown to two full columns, each addition being a somber reminder of our fleeting time.
Looking around at the 65th birthday party, I thought about that list and tried to imagine it with 16 additional friends that we would acknowledge, no doubt, at our very first reunion. Which 16 among our student body would it have been? Would we never have known the iconic bakery owner, the award-winning playwright, the various actors, singers, dancers, or the educators and counselors who have shepherded so many young souls? Maybe some of the doctors and surgeons would never have grown up and been able to treat us, our friends, and families. Who among the lawyers, volunteers, professors, government employees, and the mothers and fathers would be missing from our ranks?
It made me realize that the best reason for being there that night and at every other reunion event is much simpler than anything I had thought of previously. The best reason is because we can! We can get together and remember the idiosyncrasies of that English teacher, the hoopla over dress code hem lengths, student council battles, keg parties, crazy choir trips, the tree-scaling ski boat, war protests, and all the other things that consumed us back then.
The Parkland victims will never get to reminisce, to laugh about crazy high school antics, and remark to one another, “It’s amazing we’ve lived long enough to qualify for Medicare!” The Parkland victims will never get to share each others’ stories about surviving cancer, caring for their elderly parents, the joy of grandchildren, or finding love after a bitter divorce. Sure, they are spared life’s disappointments and heartbreaks, but who wouldn’t argue that they should have been able to make their own calculus of whether good times outweighed the bad? Why was a mentally disturbed gunman given the ability to shatter their dreams and liquidate their futures, good or bad?
All I know is that whenever classmates gather, we are defying so many odds and celebrating the special bond of survival . . . one that we took for granted and that no other high school student can ever do again. (Here’s where I spare you the diatribe about our politicians who won’t regulate guns in our society. You know what to do about that.) I’ll simply suggest that the next time you find yourself pondering whether you should attend your high school reunion, remember the murdered students of the many American schools where gun-toters have planted their rounds of “never.” Show up and celebrate simply because you CAN!
Jeffie, This is so really really good. You are so spot on. We in the class of 55 are all over 80 now and we have suspended our H S reunions. But, I would love to go to one more. Had a big blow out for our 50th.
Thanks so much, Gary! We hope to make the 50th a memorable event. It’s truly a labor of love. I’m glad you have fond memories of yours!
Just beautiful. I love your writing. Thank you.
Kathryn http://austin.thinkbilingual.org/kathryn-anderson-pioneer-and-entrepreneur-in-bilingualism/ Enrichment and tutoring in All subjects: pre-K – middle school Most subjects: high school Spanish: all ages ISEE and SSAT prep ¡CAMP AMIGAS for girls/para chicas!
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Thanks for the encouragement, Kathryn! I love knowing you are one of my readers!
Enjoyed this post. Graduated in 1955 in a class of 14 – 9 guys and 5 gals. We are all in our 80’s now and those of us left to remember anything (6 of us, 3 and 3) get together every two years. In order to have a good group we invite anyone who ever went to school with us that we can locate. Other than our good teachers, long school bus rides to do anything, pranks we played on others, our common health problems, and our children and grandchildren there is not a lot to remember. Most of us know that our football coach, when we entered our freshman year in high school, was Drew Breeze’s grandfather. A week after football season ended he and his wife sponsored a Saturday evening party and dance at a private home for the team and our dates. On the following Monday the local school board met in emergency session and fired him. Partying was OK but dancing was not! The fellowship and group memories are enjoyed and we are glad to be there. Hope you get to that point also.Ben T
Love hearing from you, Ben, and your high school years. I think I remember your telling me about six player football, but I might be wrong. You always have the best stories and I hope to long remember our time on the “vacancy trail!” What an interesting quirk in property law that usually gets met with blank stares when I try to explain it. I, too, hope our class still have plenty of folks who want to get together in our 80s! You are an inspiration!