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.