High School Reunions may soon be as out dated as Romy and Michele’s favourite movie ‘Pretty Women’. Let’s face it a modern day version of the duo couldn’t even try to pretend they invented post-it notes because their entire class would have been able to track them since the high school dance. Reunions now begin way before the event itself with friend requests and group formations. Our social media footprint ensures few are untraceable or forgotten and, with profiles at our fingertips, we can have the reunion without leaving the screen.
So perhaps it’s understandable that many feel a High School Reunion is unnecessary and decline to turn up.
But I disagree. To you social media voyeurs, I say step up and step out. While it takes guts, a stiff drink and a couple of changes of clothes to attend a party with the living ghosts of your past, you should. Because these girls and guys from your past are not ghouls, but gateways to a gift.
The first is a gift to self. I’m not a nostalgic person but I admit when I joined a school reunion page this year I was sucked into a vortex of the past. Amongst the posted photos I recognised myself at 14 in a red jumper only just shorter than my tarty tartan uniform, my legs long and lanky, my asymmetrical eighties haircut framing a baby face. The photos capture a time I hardly remember and a child I hardly know. I see so little of her in me but perhaps more of her in my daughter. One reason for going to a reunion is for that self-searching and reflection that came before the invite. It’s fascinating to consider how much of the child you resides within the adult you. And it’s lovely to meet her again.
But there are reasons to attend that are far less egocentric as the teenager you once were.
I’ve just been to my two high school reunions. The first for the school I left in Year 10 and the second for the school where I was then sent to get my act together. I admit I didn’t go to the First Year Reunion for either. Or the Five Year Reunion. Or even the Ten. At the time I told myself I wasn’t interested. I was too far away. But really, they were too soon for me and too confronting. I was still running away from my school years so I could forge an identity, a career and life. School is chosen for us. Friends are forced collectives within the zoo of childhood. Some of us need to turn from it to turn into what we want to be.
But I’ve been to all the reunions since because I realise that I can’t compartmentalise parts of myself and because I’m not the only one who has had a change in attitude. After 20 years the entire vibe changes and those chips on most shoulders have become mere splinters. After twenty years, life has caught up even with the most beautiful, most talented, most popular. After twenty-five years no one cares who was captain, prefect, sports star or dag, loser, reject.
In fact, chances are the late bloomers will be hitting their peak and finding their power. Because, as the cocoon of school crumbles into long-term forgetfulness, life becomes a great leveller. We realise no one has completely escaped the pain of bad decisions or bad relationships, loss or illness, disappointment or drama. Maya Angelou once said ‘we delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty’. By the time women are in their late thirties, the changes have made us less ‘pretty’ but certainly changed. And that’s made everyone genuinely more beautiful.
I find it powerful to reconnect with the girls I once stood guard for while they smoked in the dunnies, the friends I threw chocolate cake at in food fights and the mate I tried to fail home science with as a feminist act of defiance. At my second high school get-together, I found it joyful to reunite with the girls with whom I shared first love, first lusts, the horror of HSC exams and the hideousness fashion of the school formal (eighties puffy sleeved taffeta dresses and big hair). I found both reunions joyful, liberating and fun.
I’m sad to say there was still some pathos. When I went and kissed my best friend from my first high school she walked off. When I tried again later she left. I was shocked at the snub. I assume she’s still angry I left the school and I’m hurt and confused that she could hold a grudge for more than half her life. But even that couldn’t ruin my night.
For those I did talk to, I saw compassion, confidence and calmness, the strength to show vulnerability and a power not to judge. Few asked if I had children, no one asked if I was married and while we asked each other what we were doing it wasn’t in a career comparing way but of genuine interest. We delighted in the fact that jobs ranged from tattoo artist to private investigator at one reunion and structural engineer to feminist apocalyptic science fiction writing at another but we recognised that how we make a living is not how we make a life. It’s how we live it that matters. When one group collated a questionnaire, people talked about success in terms of health, happiness, travel, doing a marathon and having interesting children.
Reunions are about pulling parts of our lives together. If school was a petri dish where we began to take form, it’s important to look at it again to assess how we navigate the laboratory of life.
We go to a reunion to find our child within. To celebrate what we were and who we became. To recognise that life is rich, complex, painful, beautiful, disappointing, cruel, loving, messy and random. To remind us it doesn’t matter who you were and what you’ve become but how you deal with it and how you make others feel.
And you can’t do all that on Facebook.