"Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.” - Baz Luhrman
In the winter of 2012, the announcement was made that my 10 year high school reunion for the class of 2002 would be a joint reunion with the class of 2003. The East Davidson High school class president of 2002 (Keagan) and the class of 2003(Katy) were best friends from as long as I can remember. They came up with the idea of combining the reunion in hopes to draw more people. Anyone in charge of planning a high school reunion must face the awkward dilemma of low attendance along with attempting to plan a party for hundreds of people you haven't seen in years. This seemed like a wise choice considering in the years leading up to our reunion I had on multiple occasions heard people say they thought high school reunions were "a thing of the past" which was normally followed by 2-3 repetitive reason why this person "probably was not going."
Considering it is May of 2016, I assume there are thousands of high school reunions being planned (and attended) for the high school graduating class of 2006. With this event there is the persistent question of whether one should attend this event and perhaps even entire classes considering whether they should have the event at all. I would like to look at three common reasons people give for not attending their 10 year reunion: (1) Facebook eliminates the need for a reunion, (2) high school was terrible therefore there is no need to re-live it and (3) the event will be mostly people boasting about their accomplishments over the last 10 years. I'd like to argue that these reasons are pretty weak if you think of each of them individually. (Feel free to leave other reasons why people do not attend in the comment section.) Also I would like to tell the story of my own reunion because I do not believe the reunion should be considered a "thing of the past." To the class of 2006, my one piece of advice: Go to your reunion, if you are able.
One reason for not attending is "because of Facebook, I don't really see why I should go. I already know what is going on with other people. I see status updates of what other people are doing." We could call this a Millennial excuse since no previous generation would be able to say this. Because of Twitter, Instagram and/or blogs, there is no reason to attend because it is common knowledge of what has changed about everyone's lives. This seemed like a strange reason not to attend an event. Rarely do you ever hear someone say "Because of Instagram, I don't really see why I should go see my family for Christmas. I already know what is going on with other people. I saw the pictures of my cousin's new kid in September." If someone said this about Christmas, most of us would suspect there might be unspoken family turmoil that is being avoided.
This sounds more like an excuse than a reason and I just assume they have some other deeper reason not to attend the high school reunion that they either do not know how to articulate or would rather not say. But do people really believe that social media has replaced the need for face to face reunions? I find this hard to believe considering nobody has considered canceling a Christmas gathering because of Facetime. Sadly, I don't see the social media argument going away.
A second reason I've heard is "I hated high school and I don't want to revisit it." There are parts of high school that I absolutely hated. For myself it wasn't as much individuals, it was the trends or aspects of "group think" that you were inescapably around. The conformity was worth hating. Everyone was forced to attend high school for 4 years of your life, so there is some natural resentment built up. Yet despite that, I still liked the individuals I attended high school with. I wanted to attend my reunion to see specific people that I don't normally run into.
Yet for those people who say they are not attending because they hated high school, I wonder, do they find adult life more fun than high school? Do they find adult life harmonious in comparison to high school? I can find equally terrible parts to both high school and adult life (in contrast to the utopia that is college). I can find both amazing things about both high school and adult life. By attending the reunion does not mean you are verbally agreeing that you are excited to see everyone nor that you are required to sign a commitment at the door that you enjoyed your senior year. This is a more legitimate reason than the Facebook excuse, but still, there are reasons to on the good parts of high school as well as just remembering the awkward parts.
A third reason that people may not attend, conversations would simply be on one topic:"listen to what I've accomplished in the past 10 years." While I expected and anticipated a good time, this was my own negative assumption that I felt very certain of. After spending K-12 with the East Davidson class of 2002, it's easy to feel as if you can give expert predictions of what will happen. For me it was that showboating would be prevalent. Conversations would revolve around accomplishments: bragging about what promotions my classmates received, how they had proven themselves professionally since high school and then a quick introduction to a new spouse from Charlotte or Raleigh or Atlanta. I expected this to happen, but was prepared to endure it for the sake of attending.
Baz Luhrman said "Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.” I wrote this quote down years ago and have committed myself to live it out the best I can. It has become a life motto for me. Therefore, I was prepared to endure some bragging and boasting for the sake of bridging the gaps of geography and lifestyle, at least for one night.
What Happened at My High School Reunion in May 2013
Our reunion was held on the 2nd floor event area of a local restaurant named Southern Sisters in downtown Thomasville. I felt like I had walked into a wedding reception with what seemed to be a recently remodeled room, a large table with food and music playing. I saw a group of people from my senior class standing in the middle of what seemed to be a dance floor: Chad, Lyndsay and Keagan, who welcomed me in an excited manner. I had not seen any of these people in 5-6 years, but they all greeted me in a friendly manner.
Thus begun many quick conversations with various people: Darren who lived in Texas, who explained to me what graduate school was like at University of Texas, as he got his PHD in music. In middle school Darren was the Lebron James of trombone, whereas I was the Kwame Brown of trombone. Another guy named John, explained how it sucked to have Lyme disease after getting bit by a tick while deer hunting. John was significantly cooler than I was in high school, but I did not know that Lyme disease was incurable. I explained to him the fact I have epilepsy and could not drive at the time. I talked to Adam, who had a pony-tail (I do not remember at all from high school), and who offered me advice about using permaculture to grow better tomatoes in my garden. I joked around with my friend Michael as we watched some ladies in their late twenties dance to early 2000's rap music (I think it was Nelly) as if they were still in high school.
I saw my friend my friend Jill, who I had not seen in at least 8 years. Of course I had noticed on Facebook (and heard from other friends) that she had married a guy who played tight end for the Cleveland Browns. I walked by her and her 6'5 NFL husband and she said "Hey Nathan!" She gave me a hug and began to talk about a time in high school when we almost flipped her Jeep (accidentally) while coming home from Western Carolina on I-40. She started asking me about my life. I can't remember what I said. I think I was more interested in meeting an NFL player, face to face. I asked her husband, who had previously played for the Chicago Bears, what it was like to hit Julius Peppers everyday at practice. He was really laid back and friendly, but looked a bit overwhelmed.
Some of my conversations started out "Hey, I saw you post about __________on Facebook. How did you get into that career?" What I'd seen on Facebook were like icebreaker questions for bigger stories. What I had seen on Facebook gave me a gateway for more stories, but unlike what most people thought, the existence of social didn't make the reunion boring.
I did not feel, at any point in the night, that anyone was attempting to brag about their accomplishments. This room of people were much more humble than the ones I knew back in the early 2000's when we walked the halls of East Davidson high school. There was more equality in the room. This was not legislated equality, but one that came from being forced to live in the real world and give up youthful pride that separated us in years past. The competitive hierarchy that existed in high school had faded away, at least for this night.
A False Assumption: "I am Wise and Mature, Everyone Else is 'Stuck in High School'"
It is easy to assume that everyone would fail to mature over the course of a ten year period after graduating; meanwhile you are maturing, learning, suffering, achieving and changing as a adult. This can be a self-centered way of seeing yourself in comparison to other people. It somehow is easy to assume that all those people you knew back in the day, would still have the same 18 year old maturity level as the last day you saw them on graduation day. Let me be more specific-----it was easy for me, Nathan Branson, to assume that those who I graduated with in 2002 would be less mature and still "stuck in high school," in contrast to my own personal journey in becoming a sober minded adult. No doubt I have matured, but I shouldn't be so delusional to think that other people haven't grown as much or more than myself.
Public high schools in America (everywhere?) are full of young people who walk around their senior year boasting about what they will do in college and after college. That is, those who boast too much, can become delusional. For myself, I became skilled at boasting about what I would be (which extended into my college years). At the age of 18, you can pretty much say you are going to pursue a $200,000 career path without knowing anything about how to get there. You can talk about hypothetical dreams for days at that age, yet none of it has to be based in reality.
But for all of us, in this room in 2013 in a small town in North Carolina, we had enough time to achieve these big dreams. Many of us had graduated from college between 2006 and 2008. This meant that many of were starting our careers at the beginning of a recession. Some of those big dreams we had planned on pursuing (between 2007 and 2013) had to be put on hold or re-routed right after college. I believe the reason that there was not much boasting at the reunion-----was because everyone had been required to endure those years trying to establish their dreams during the recession.
Anyone who is considering passing up their 10 year high school reunion (class of 2006 and 2007) should consider this: people who you graduated high school with are not the same 18 year olds that you knew 10 years ago. Nor does social media eliminate the need for face to face interaction. In fact, it could help give you more context for so many people's lives. But most of all-----I believe you will find much of the youthful pride and arrogance that many people had at 18 to be less present and gone with replaced with a sober-mindedness that comes with living in the real world.
More than anything------we need each other. Everyone needs at least a few people they grew up with. Despite our "connections," we need the people we grew up with as we get older because they help us understand our past and our present. What's the worst that can happen at a reunion? A really awkward interaction? The risk of feeling awkward is always worth the reward of investing in old friends.