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.
(It’s not too late to get a question in for this week’s Reader Request Week! Go here to find out how to do so.)