Is There Life After High School?

[To hear the audio version, click here: Reunion 2012]

I know a lot of people who look forward to their high school reunions, others who dread them, and still others who avoid them like the plague.  My brother falls squarely in the third category.  “If I was that eager to see you,” he says, “why would I have waited five years?”

Now that we have Facebook, we already know who’s gained weight and who’s gone bald, so what else do we really need to see?  Maybe that’s why attendance for reunions nationwide has dropped dramatically.

As for me, I like reunions. Yes, high school was often traumatic – a time when I could actually think everybody really was focused on my bad hair day, because what else could possibly be more important than scrutinizing my many flaws?  But on the whole, I liked high school.  I liked most of my classes, from Homebuilding to Humanities.  I had great teachers, and I made lifelong friends.

But a high school reunion can test all those memories, and throw us back into the same traumatized state we fell into the first time.  One friend, who was a tough, popular guy in high school, has skipped all our reunions, he told me, out of fear.  Despite my peer pressure, he did not show up for this one, either.

I can understand why. At our fifth-year reunion, we were just older versions of our high school selves, who hadn’t really done anything – so we resorted to the old stories and caste systems we created in high school.  We got better at each successive reunion, but too often simply replaced our status as football heroes and homecoming queens with our new cars, careers and kids’ accomplishments. Given the depth of our interaction, we could have achieved the same effect by just exchanging our resumes, like baseball cards.

But at our last reunion, we were more interested in each other than ourselves.  Yes, we talked about kids and careers, but simply to bring each other up to date, not to brag, often adding a self-effacing story.  Once we got past the surface, we quickly learned that no one’s life had gone according to plan — no one’s – and we all had some dreams dashed along the way.  It’s made us better people.

The whole night, I didn’t hear anybody talk about their glory days, but I did hear a lot of stories about the many stupid things we did during those three very intense years, from bizarre dance moves to Peter Frampton hairdos to powder blue tuxedos.  We played our music, from the classic, “Brick House,” to the very first rap songs.  Your kids call them, “Oldies.”  We call them, “High school.”  Good luck explaining Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five.

One friend had the bright idea of bringing her yearbooks – and not just from high school, but junior high, too.  If high school could be strange, junior high was the Mt. Everest of Awkward, every day a trial.  In these yearbooks we had written things like, “Have a bomb summer!” and, “Don’t ever change!”

Are you kidding me?  “Don’t ever change”?  In eighth grade I was probably 5-2, maybe 80 pounds, with the occasional death-defying pimple I was absolutely certain everybody in the school had stopped their lives to discuss in great detail.  There was nothing about me I did not want to change.  I wanted to put on a personal fire sale.  Everything must go!

But all these years later, just about everything has changed – thank God. Heck, I’m now a strapping 5-foot-8!  Not braggin’. Just sayin’.

On Saturday, hearing “You haven’t changed!” didn’t sound so bad, after all – true or not.  Watching our parents, however, we know more changes are coming.  But, as a consolation prize, I still have my hair.  So, that’s something.   (We’ll see how long that lasts.)

But maybe my hair, then and now, isn’t so important after all.  Perhaps the main thing is to connect.  And that’s what we did Saturday night.  It’s a simple thing, but it does something very profound to us – bringing us back to our first friends, and our original selves.

It occurred to me that it was in high school that I started learning what I really cared about, and what I didn’t, and how to be true to myself, even when it cost me.

I gained a new respect for that guy, who was braver than I’d remembered, and knew a few things his older self had almost forgotten.

I, for one, am looking forward to our next reunion.

* * * * *

[A tip of the cap to Ralph Keyes, author of an interesting book of the same title.]

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4 comments Leave a comment  

  • Ron Pudduck August 24, 2012 at 7:52 am

    I tried hard to get to the late hours of your 30th Reunion. Amy Megginson had invited me–but things just did not work out. My wife, daughters and I took a trip to Norman, OK to surprise our son on his 4oth (who would believe it). The plane left Dallas 3 hours late because of thunderstorms-so, instead of arriving in Detroit at 8:00 PM we arrived at 11:00 PM. Drove past the reunion site about midnight, and I knew that all of you would be safely tucked in bed by that time.
    Really sorry I missed it as I understand from Amy that there were 5 “kids” from your King class in attendance. Would have loved to talk and laugh with them!
    Oh, well, maybe the 40th.
    I really do enjoy your blogs. Take care,
    Ron P.

    Ron P

  • Connie Hamlin August 24, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Well done, as always, John. I was shocked at the classmates who came up to hug me at my 25th reunion, especially those who didn’t give me the time of day in high school. But what the heck…a hug is always a good thing. One of my nicer male classmates almost burst into tears when he saw me cause he’d heard that I’d died! It had been my sister. My 40th is coming up next summer. I don’t know if anyone is even planning a reunion, but I would go. I used to think that those who had good jobs, a home, a nice car were successful. At the next one I just want to know if they’re happy–the truest sign of a successful life.

  • Kurt O'Keefe August 24, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Must be reunion season. At my 5th, only the doctors and lawyers and other “successes” were showing up.
    Had not gone since the 20th; so happy to still be alive, I went to the 40th.
    Yes, FB gives away current looks, which are somewhat far off from the yearbook pix.
    Took all four of mine along; had not cracked them in decades. Demonstrations over the, yes, dress code. We won the right to wear bell bottoms!
    I was at the other end of the physique spectrum, and was happy to go at exactly the same weight I was upon entering high school, 195. Better to be fat in high school and have people tell you how good you look at the reunions.
    People’s memory of me is more generous than my own, as it seems was the case with you.
    Over 600 in my graduating class, and the FB group building up to the event allowed many to re-connect or connect for the first time.
    Overall, a bunch of really nice people.
    We had so much fun, planning on a get together in two years to mark the occasion of turning
    I will try to make my comments shorter next time.

  • Ron September 1, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Yes, there is life after high school, and plenty of it. High School was left in my rear view mirror as I drove away on my last day. I have never attented a reuinion, nor any social function related to school, nor will I likely do so.

    What we invested in so heavily in high school, the cultural demands of fitting in were revealed to be a complete waste of time and effort. What was so important back then, being popular, cool, wearing the right shoes,jacket,shirt,pants, where and with whom one hung out with, what one was supposed to be interested in, bands,musicians,singers,the cliques were of no value once one entered the real adult working world. I had the opportunity to skip the second last semester due to a scheduling issue and worked at a real blue collar job for 4 months. Real responsibiities, real consequences and real adults with real life issues. A far cry from what was considered so important within high school.

    My glory days were not at age 18 doing something that the teachers or more so the students would recognize and remember me for doing. I have grown up, away and beyond that time.

    There are no particular fond nor horrid memories. I can not get nostalgic about it. I recongnize only a few names on the alumni site, even fewer old friends. We went our separate ways, I hope they have all done well for themselves. What bonded us together back then is of no importance to me now. I broke free of that time and place, I hope the others have also and are able to direct their energies to more important ends.

    It is in the past, along time ago, fading from memory and sinking lower each passing year down on the trash heap of history.


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