After moving 1,000 miles away from my hometown, I never came back for any high school class reunions. In fact, more than twenty years of such negligence led me to forgetting all about their existence. It was quite by accident, then, that I found myself attending my 35th class reunion – and boy was I glad I did!
It happened like this: I had flown back to visit my parents a few days earlier. We decided to go to the local Farmer’s Market to buy some veggies, when we ran into the father of one of my classmates. He was a long-time family friend whom I had worked with for over a decade, so we stopped to chat.
Towards the end on the conversation he said, “I think your class reunion is today.”
“What? Really?” I asked, suddenly remembering those exist. “Do you know when or where?”
He took out his cell phone, called his son, and two minutes later I had the requisite details. Six hours after that, I walked through the door of the reunion venue, not sure what to expect. Imagine my surprise, when what transpired was everything I didn’t expect!
One of the reasons for my disinterest in class reunions was I didn’t have especially fond memories of school. I liked the academics just fine, but I still carried around some baggage from those formative years. If you were to ask me what my top three negative school experiences were, I would answer as follows: having my shorts pulled down, feeling friendless, and . . . volleyball.
When I walked into the reunion, I had no idea each of those traumas would be healed by the time I walked out. Yet, that is exactly what happened! As a result, I can now offer you three important reasons to attend your class reunions.
Reason 1: Class reunions heal humiliations and fears
The most humiliating experience of my entire academic career was having my gym shorts pulled down by a classmate in the 5th grade. Since the school was right there on Main Street, and gym class was outside that day, it was even more embarrassing. I don’t know why she did it, but from that day on I was afraid of her.
Into my adult life, I never forgot her name or her face. Neither did I forget the humiliation. Yet, never in my imagination would I have anticipated that out of nearly 400 classmates, she would be the first person to greet me when I walked through the door of the reunion.
The second I saw her, I was glad I hadn’t worn shorts. But as she came toward me, I realized dresses are easier to pull up than shorts are to pull down. Luckily, all she gave me was a bright smile and a genuine hug.
We didn’t talk long, but it was enough to assure me I needn’t be afraid. I never mentioned the shorts incident, and neither did she. Maybe in time we’ll laugh about it, but for now I’m just grateful my humiliation and fear were healed by my enemy becoming my friend.
Reason 2: Class reunions make you instantly popular
I was never popular in school. Perhaps I might have been had I not made the fateful mistake of getting my long blonde locks cut off in the 5th grade. The Brady Bunch was a popular TV show back then, and I wanted my hair cut in a short shag, just like Mrs. Brady.
Everyone (including the hairdresser) thought it was a mistake, but I insisted. From that point on, I noticed a sharp decline in my social life. Oh sure, I had a few friends. Even so, I’m convinced that haircut decision marred my reputation for the rest of my public-school career.
It was very therapeutic, then, to walk into the reunion and have almost all my classmates happy to see me, hair and all. I had great conversations with people I had never even felt privileged enough to say “hi” to in school. It was strange to experience how passing each other in the halls for four years created a camaraderie between us — albeit 35 years later.
Maybe time and absence really does make the heart grow fonder. Or maybe, as we mourned the passing of our deceased classmates, we were grateful to be surrounded by the familiar faces that remained. Either way, I no longer felt like an outsider. After living with a longing for belonging for most of my life, I suddenly belonged!
Reason 3: Class reunions reframe bad memories
Since I was born crippled and had to wear foot and leg braces until I was five years old, running and jumping were not my strong suits. As a result, I was not fond of team sports. Still, I was forced to play them in school, where I learned to hate volleyball above all others. I was afraid of the ball, afraid of getting hurt by teammates who’d shove me out of the way to make the hit, and afraid of being ridiculed for being so bad at the game.
It was ironic, then, when a classmate came up to me at the reunion and said, “I remember you, Salina! You were the best volleyball player! You were the girl everyone wanted on their team!”
I tried to tell him he had the wrong girl. I tried to tell him the truth, which is that I was the one no one wanted on their team. Still, he would have none of it.
“That’s not the way I remember it,” he insisted. “Everyone wanted you on their team!”
It’s amazing what 35 years and who knows how many alcoholic beverages can do to a person’s recall. Regardless, I liked his memories a whole lot better than mine. As I walked away smiling, I decided right and then to reframe my negative volleyball memories into positive ones. After all, why should I hold onto feeling traumatized by the sport, when he remembered me as triumphant?
I had no idea going to my 35th class reunion would be so therapeutic. In fact, I was having so much fun, I stayed until the very end. As I was saying goodbye, one of my classmates asked me if I was planning to come to the 40th reunion.
“Absolutely!” I answered, feeling a newfound appreciation for the ritual. She was pleased, but pressed me further by making me promise I’d be there. I promised without hesitation — not just because it was a grand time, but because I finally understood class reunions are less expensive and more effective than psychotherapy.
So next time you get wind of your class reunion, remember you can’t afford NOT to go. All you have to do is slap on that name tag and walk through the portal. When you come out the other side, you’ll be a popular volleyball star, or a math genius, or whatever you need to be to heal your personal trauma. And the best part is, you’ll make a whole lot of new old friends you never knew you had!
Disclaimer: This is not a guarantee that your high school class reunion will provide the same therapeutic value as mine. Results may vary.