Reader Request Week 2022 #6: High School Reunions

Laura S asks:

My 50 year high school reunion was last fall. Actually 50+1 because of COVID. Have you attended any high school reunions? Or have you kept in touch with childhood friends post high school?

I’ve been to several high school reunions: Specifically the 5th, the 10th, the 20th and the 30th, and I have plans to attend my 35th, which as it happens falls on the centennial celebration of the founding of my high school, so it will be a big ol’ to-do. That said, most of the class reunions are an at-least-medium-sized to-do, since the way my school does it is to group alumni by five-year anniversaries, so when we went back for the 30th, others were there for their 10th, 20th, 40th, 50th and also their 5th, 15th, 25th and so on. My experience is that the reunions that end with “0” get more people at them than the ones that end with “5” (see my own attendance), but regardless the attendance is pretty solid, because many alumni live within driving distance of the school, and because it’s Just That Sort of School.

And why are The Webb Schools of California (my high school alma mater) Just That Kind of School? Lots of reasons, including small class sizes, so you know everyone and everyone knows you in a way that a school with a thousand kids per class can’t provide, and because it was a boarding school, which means that for four years everyone was up in everyone else’s business; even the “day students” spent far more time on campus than most kids at non-boarding schools. Also, as a college prep school, regardless of our backgrounds coming into the school, as alumni most of us inhabit a largely homogeneous social class, which aids in class cohesion. Finally, Webb goes out of its way to develop and encourage alumni outreach, between it and between alumni, for its benefit and ours — we get a useful and congenial alumni network, and Webb (among other things) gets alumni giving. The result is admirable alumni connectivity, both within graduating classes and among the alumni in general.

Given all that, I don’t suppose it’s surprising for me to say that I kept in touch with a pretty large number of friends from high school. Even now, a large number of my friend cohort is from that time in my life, including several of the people I would class into the “best friend” category. In the before times, we would keep in touch through phone and things like alumni notes; these days Facebook and other social media do the trick. On one hand, the persistence of our alumni connections mean that there are very few surprises at reunions; we all know what each other have been up to, in an at least basic sense. But on the other hand it’s nice to have those connections be a constant.

Indeed, one of the things I would say that has been a pleasant surprise over time is that these days, on average, I am probably closer to more of the classmates I went to school with (and other alumni from my school) than I was when we attended Webb together. When you’re in high school, you’re a teenager, with the attendant teenage angst and drama and everything else. I’m not snarking on teenage angst and drama — that’s part of what being a teenager is for — but it does generate alienation and conflict even within a small cohort of people. Everyone I went to high school with is now rather more settled, generally, and most of the conflicts we might have had in high school are either resolved, or at the very least so far in the past that we can’t remember what they were, so why bother hauling them up to the present day.

But beyond that, well, I just mostly like the people I went to school with. They’re pretty excellent folks, by and large, and the sort of people I would probably want to know even if I had not gone to high school with them and had that shared history. Inasmuch as we did share that history, however, I suppose one of the things that does incline me to like them is that the school did actually attempt to instill values in us: Service, and community feeling, and trying to be a just and decent person even when other people aren’t looking or you will see an immediate benefit from doing so. If you like who I am as a person, a non-trivial part of my ethical make-up comes from the values Webb tried to instill in us. I suspect I’m not the only one for whom those values still resonate and matter.

(That said, allow me to be the first to admit that my generally very positive experience with Webb is not universal. I know people who had not great experiences there, and also, aside from any purported values the school would instill, it was still high school in the 80s, with the inequities and questionable behaviors, from students and staff, of that era. It wasn’t a perfect place, filled with perfect people, he said, in an understatement. It was, however, good for me, and I believe the foundation for much of my future successes in life, personally and professionally, was laid there.)

I’m happy to know today the people I went to high school with, and expect I will be happy to know them all of our respective lives. I’m looking forward to seeing some of them at our 35th reunion this year. We’ll laugh and hug and talk and be glad we still get to have the connections we do. I like who we all got to be. I like that we get to be those people together.

— JS

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13 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2022 #6: High School Reunions”

  1. I know I wouldn’t recognize any of them. I might remember some names.

    I wonder how many I’d remember if I magically showed up in my body 54 years ago. Maybe a handful. Maybe not.

  2. Sounds like my last HS reunion, which was our 15 year reunion back in ’18. My school does an alumni weekend with every multiple of 5, and generally the 10s are better represented. My school similarly was boarding, with no option for you to not live in the dorms, and was a magnet school, so we all ended up in that similar “well off professional” cohort in our adult lives. And similar small class sizes (usually just under 200 at graduation), so you just know everyone by graduation, even if you weren’t friends, per say. It was interesting how we all slid into comfortable familiarity with each other.

    But one thing I didn’t see mentioned is whether or not a group of you trawls the halls of the school singing “The Longest Time” or not.

  3. Sadly, I have zero connection with anyone from my high school graduating class (of 1206!) including my friends of the time. The only reunion I know of was the 50th, but I didn’t go. It was in New Jersey for crying out loud and I didn’t know anyone who was going. Sad, perhaps, but I didn’t have the happiest time in high school, even though I did quite well.

  4. I had a great time at my 50+1 reunion. A walk down nostalgia lane. Unfortunately a few classmates I have known since first grade decided not to attend because COVID cases were spiking again. Looking forward to our 55th reunion.

  5. I went to a public high school, Langley in McLean Va, class of 83. At the 10 year everyone pretty much looked the same as they had in 1983, and many of us were still in the area. At the 20 year? Man, some people I could recognize from across the room, and some seemed to be aging at twice the rate as the rest of us.

    Still in touch with some of them. Several grandparents in our bunch, and a few with kids at the same school. The 40th is next year…

  6. I am glad you’ve enjoyed your reunions, Mr. Scalzi. You clearly attended a very different sort of school than my spouse and I did.

    I went to a small private school, and in the 47 years since I graduated, I have had zero contact with anyone there. This appallingly overpriced school, theoretically for “gifted” kids (whatever the hell that means), somehow let me graduate without ever taking or passing Algebra I, let alone any more challenging courses, so my college years were, um, not terribly successful. And to add insult to injury, after I had attended the school for over a decade, first through twelfth grades, and in a graduating class of 41 people, they still managed to misspell my name on my freaking diploma. I have no idea if they’ve ever had a reunion, but it will be a cold day in a very hot place if I were to go to one.

    My spouse went to his 30th high school reunion and reported that all the bullies were still arrogant jerks, all the jocks still had delusions of athletic superiority, and nearly the entire bunch had never traveled more than 100 miles from where they grew up and were just as narrow-minded and bigoted as you’d expect.

    It’s nice to know that some folks have great experiences in high school and maintain connections with high school friends in the years after graduation. Not in my world, but I’m glad it happens for some people.

  7. I enjoyed my 10-year reunion. I had left high school with the idea that most of my classmates would stay local, marry each other, and have a bunch of kids. The ten-year reunion confirmed that, but they mostly seemed happy with their lot in life, so what’s wrong with that?

    My 20-year reunion was a lot of middle-aged men with younger wives. Or so it seemed. The women from my graduating class just seemed get older more gracefully than the men.

    I don’t know if there was a 30-year reunion. Facebook came along, and I’m “friends” with many old classmates, but being caught up on their public personas quenches my need to catch up with them in person. There was a reunion planned for a multi-decade group of graduates (my high school graduating class was only 80 people, so this is actually feasible). I passed on that, partly because it was organized by someone who used to be my step-mother. She’s a Facebook friend, but I haven’t seen her in person in more than 30 years.

    Next year will be my 40th anniversary of graduating. Several of the people I might be interested in seeing again have already passed away. I guess I’ll see what happens.

  8. I made it to a few reunions in the first decade or so out of HS (5th, 15th, one sort of informal one held for reasons) but haven’t been back since and now, with the events of the last five years, there is zero chance of my ever spending a couple of hours in a room with THOSE people again. See, I went to a small Mennonite school and if you haven’t noticed (and why would you), the bulk of the Mennonite church in the US has sort of drifted into a form of mainstream Evangelicalism and yes, that means EXACTLY what you think it means. I’ve already blocked half of my graduating class on Facebook and am afraid to look up the rest. I had enough trouble getting through family events with people I actually used to like, considering that most of the HS folks were at best neutral observers, there is no way a few hours of contact could end with anything but angry rants at some point. I have a few friends from that class that are still decent people (and to be clear, some of the blocked folks aren’t actually BAD, they just can’t understand the consequences of their choices) but I don’t need a reunion to connect with them.

  9. Public school, class of about 500.

    I was unable to attend my 10th year reunion and was given the impression that I missed a really good time. So I was looking forward to the 20th (don’t think there was a 15th), especially since in the intervening decade Facebook had proliferated and we were more in touch with classmates than ever.

    Imagine my surprise when the 20th was lame, lame, lame. Small turnout, no one I really missed or cared about was there, and the people who were there were basically strangers, even those that I was friendly with back in the day. And the food sucked.

    I doubt there will be a 30th, but if there is I’ll probably skip it.

  10. This year will be my 55th anniversary. I’ll not be attending any reunions that bunch of morons puts together. I went to a smallish (120 in my class) public school in Ohio. The only people that show up are those who’ve NEVER left town. You can’t imagine what that means unless you’ve experienced it. I don’t use FaceBook, twitter or any other social media for Reasons; so, don’t have contacts and don’t want any. They’d probably say I’m just a bitter old fart…


  11. I’ve never been to a high school reunion, and only once even considered it. I kind of envy you, John, and some of the people commenting; it must be nice to have such close friendships with people in high school. There were over 800 kids in my graduating class. About my only friend from high school days that I still have contact with was considering going to the 50th reunion, so I looked at the web site. I recognized two names on the lists, one in the Memorial section and one a guy I’ve been quite happy not to see. Didn’t go.

  12. @Jane Bigelow

    There’s a downside to small schools and that’s that there’s no escaping the people you don’t want to see until after graduation when you can get the heck out of town. Also, yeesh, 800. That’s almost the size of our entire school district K-12.

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