On the 20th Reunion of the Webb Class of 87

My high school reunion went swimmingly, thanks for asking, and to be completely honest about it I would have deeply surprised if it had not. Unlike an apparently large number of creative and/or geeky folk, I largely enjoyed my high school experience, and I suspect a lot of that had to do with the school itself. Webb is a small, private boarding school where everyone is literally in everyone else’s business; having cliques was not impossible — trust me, they existed — but it also meant that the cliques were permeable and that everyone was in more than one. If you were to do a Venn diagram of the social circles of Webb, it would have looked like someone stacked several Olympic symbols on top of each other, and then blew them up. It makes for congenial reunions 20 years down the line.

Webb being a private boarding school also meant that the reunion had a dynamic that’s a little different than most high school reunions. Despite the mobile nature of today’s society, most people still stick within throwing distance of their original homes; by contrast, since many Webb students already came from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, my class is fairly widely dispersed across the planet. We had people coming in from Ohio, Mississippi, North Carolina, New York, Hong Kong, England and Lebanon, among other places, doing any number of interesting and impressive things. It ends up feeling a bit like the reunion of a small college rather than of a high school.

I’ve often said to people that as far as high school reunions go, the 20th is the one that really matters. At earlier reunions people are still finding their way into the adult world, and at the later ones you find out which people have left the world entirely. At the 20th, however, everyone’s pretty much become who they were going to be. You’re irrevocably adults, you have spouses and children and status and you are you. This is one reason I was so keen on coming to this reunion: I wanted to see the people the people I had known as they were growing had become.

And I’m delighted to say that by and large the people they have become are good ones, smart and worldly without being world-weary, and nearly all of them comfortable in their own skin. My classmates are people I would want to spend time with even if I hadn’t spent four developmentally-critical years with them two decades back; I like these folks, and I’m glad to be able to say that. Again, I would have been mildly surprised if this hadn’t had been the case; I liked most of them back then, too. But the nice thing about 20 years is that people come into their own, and any lingering high school psychodrama has long since washed away (or really should have by now), and you get to see them unfiltered by your memory of who they were, or your expectations or fantasies (or nightmares) of who they might have become. You see them for themselves. By and large this is a good thing.

And personally speaking, it was fun for me to have my classmates learn about what I’m up to. I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration to say that I am doing what nearly everyone in my class expected me to be doing; pretty much the first thing that people who hadn’t seen me for a while asked me was “So, are you still writing?” Why, yes. Yes I am. Thank you kindly. People seemed genuinely pleased that I had kept up that writing habit of mine, and I was happy to discover some of them were planning books or other writing themselves. We’ll have something to talk about at the 30th.

Going to this reunion was fun but in its way also bittersweet. Not everyone who was in the class was there; I didn’t get to see everyone I’d hoped to have seen. And along with the happiness of seeing those who were there again was the knowledge that even among this particular group, this was likely to be the last time so many of us were in one place at one time. This 20th reunion was, in many of the ways that matter, the capstone of a certain time in our life; a last outpost from which we look back on youth, however you want to define it, and then move forward with debts appreciated and paid. We’re all grown up now. We are who we are.

Now, most of us will still be in contact one way or another with others of our class, of course, and will hear news through the grapevine; our class was too small and too intimate with each other for that not to happen. We will still hear about each other; we’ll still see our close friends and others in our class from time to time. There will be other reunions, large and small, planned and spontaneous. I hope to see them all again, one way or another.

For all that, for me, this is the reunion that I think matters the most. I’m glad I was there, to see old friends and celebrate the lives they have made, to remember the ones who weren’t there and to wish them well in their lives, and most of all to know again, in heart and gut and brain, that I am part of this small tribe of people who share a common bond of time and place and circumstance. Other tribes and other bonds call to me, and I celebrate them equally. But this one is special and irreplaceable. I’m proud of this tribe, of this class, and am honored to be one of them. These are my people, and I’m glad I got to see so many of them again.

15 thoughts on “On the 20th Reunion of the Webb Class of 87

  1. I hear you. I missed my 20th and in some ways I regret that. The saving grace for me is that my small circle of friends from those days are my current small circle of friends. I guess at the time I didn’t see the point in going to an expensive party just to see people I see all the time anyway.

  2. John,

    It was great to see you too. However… I must say that I disagree with the following: “You’re irrevocably adults…” I would say that though, I may have aged… I still see myself as the “young guy” I was @ Webb…

    Seriously. Great to have seen so many classmates back for the 20th and as long as you keep writing, I’ll keep reading!

    –Dennis

  3. Wow, I have no idea what it must be like. High school for me was hellish and I couldn’t wait to leave. The idea of a reunion, 20th or otherwise, just fills me with angst.

  4. My high school reunions have been quite enjoyable — despite the fact that my former classmates seem to be getting significantly mature in appearance.

    I’ve been to my 10th… and 20th… 25th… 30th… 40th… and 2011 will bring the 50th. Hmmm, that one is getting to be a somewhat daunting number….

  5. John – It is no surprise that, with your eloquent yet matter-of-fact writing style, you summarized Reunion Weekend perfectly on behalf of all members of the Class of ’87. One of the things I admire about you most is that when I read your work, it feels as though I am having a conversation with you (or, at least, am listening to you talk). That is a gift you’ve had for decades, and I cherish it.

  6. Sometimes it makes me sad to know that I will probably not have that kind of experience at my twenty year reunion. As a working class kid who went to a rather affluent high school with rigid cliques and hierarchies, not to mention apathetic and uninspiring teachers, I spent most of my high school years feeling alienated and alone. Luckily I ended up with grades that got me into one of the best universities in my area, and my experience here has been MILES better. The difference is just insane. I think I’m going to enjoy keeping in touch with friends I’ve made in university much more than revisiting the people I got stuck going to high school with. Still, it’s nice to know that there schools out there that don’t offer their students four years of living , there should be more of those. Glad to hear you had a good time.

  7. Hmmmm… no mention of bumping into any ex-girlfriends John.

    Krissy is smiling in the picture, but she has that bat of hers hidden under the table, doesn’t she?

  8. Christian:

    The girl I had a massive crush on in high school wasn’t at the reunion. But I saw her while I was on the book tour, so that was good. And Krissy actually likes her. No bat required.

  9. Yeah, John, must be rough going to a 20th reunion, you know with the writing career where it is and (if I may say so) one hot, strong woman on your arm. I mean, tough break about not being able to swing the jet-pack landing/entrance. :)

    I think our officers wasted everything on our fifth anniversary. I never saw a 10th, or 20th anniversary announcement. Not an increadibly a really big loss in my book. We went to my wife’s 10th. After the food-fight we made a quick exit.

  10. I think our officers wasted everything on our fifth anniversary. I never saw a 10th, or 20th anniversary announcement.

    Me, neither. I remember getting something in the mail about a fifth year reunion (I didn’t go), and I haven’t gotten anything since. I graduated in 1975, so it’s been 32 years since graduation. My sister has never mentioned getting anything either, and she graduated in 1971.

    Not an increadibly a really big loss in my book.

    Mine, neither. :shrugs:

  11. Heh. You’ve just convinced me to go to my 20th reunion no matter what happens with the 15th reunion coming up next weekend. So far it’s looking like few people are planning to show. But I’ll also be visiting some family while in the area, so it won’t be a total waste of a drive.

    The class is actually getting more organized with reunions as time goes on. This has its downsides; I enjoyed the 5-year the most, because it consisted of all of us on a giant mailing list, discussing what we wanted to do as a group, and then doing that. There was some of that for the 10-year too, but this year a high-falutin’ committee planned it all for us and there was nothing to discuss. Also we’re having a multi-year reunion with a couple other classes, which sounds like a great idea on paper but in practice, well, I sort of only want to see the people of my own class, not bunches of people I don’t know.

    In general, it sounds like my high school experience was much like yours. We’re a small, close-knit bunch of smart people that came from all over the state in a grand adventure of guinea pigging for a brand new school for “gifted” kids, and although there were people I didn’t much like, as a whole I look forward to seeing them.

  12. hugh57, glad it wasn’t just my class. I graduated with 438 others (IIRC). Some of them I’d like to see what happened and how their lives worked out. There ar emore friends in other classes and college I would rather find out about.

  13. venn diagrams rule!
    wish there had been more overlap variation, restacking, and toppling at webb.
    hurrah for 20th year high school renunions.
    john, we so enjoyed talking with you on the upper field and skipping 7th period convocation.
    pluto rocks!

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