If you’re lucky in life, there are a few things that, nearing 70 years into our odyssey, make your heart sing and put an eternal smile on your face. Lifetime loves, family, and BFFs come to mind. I’ve just discovered that you can add half-century high school class reunions to that list.
It always felt like ours was a close graduating class in 1973. Many of us have kept in touch over the years, particularly since the advent of social media. For some of us, high school was a high point in our life. For other of my classmates, it was a low point. For still others, it was simply a perfunctory stepping-stone to college, work, and life.
We had pulled together a few “milestone” reunions over the years with modest attendance. But 50! This would be the reunion of all reunions, and perhaps our last.
And, it turned out, the celebratory evening checked all the boxes.
Few events offer the opportunity to go back and laugh like a teenager. A reunion does. I’m not off a silly millimeter when I submit that our 50th brought back a flood of memories to everyone who attended.
The organizing committee was wise to prepare the large-lettered nametags. For sure, there were some initial glances at nametags as former classmates approached from across the hall or room; however, for the most part, personal recognition was spontaneous — knowing grins accompanied by beaming eyes, followed by the warmest kind of bear hugs. Over and over and over again.
You forget how much you miss your classmates until you see them again. We bonded, reminisced, and commiserated. We celebrated our lasting memories of 50 years ago. We proudly discussed our families and introduced spouses. We opened up about our losses. The evening was deeply nostalgic, and, at times, conversations were emotionally poignant. But mostly, we grinned, smiled, hugged and laughed. Oh, how we laughed!
With age comes wisdom. And a few extra pounds. And a wee bit of lost hair. Some aches and pains. Triumphs and tragedies. As I circulated from table to table, I noted that I was in the midst of sooo many good-looking, bright, resourceful and accomplished-in-life folks. Not once did I wonder who all those old people were. They were my brothers and sisters. They constituted a very important kind of family.
Stories piled on top of stories, on top of reminiscing. Former jocks’ achievements and triumphs of yesteryear were fondly recalled, complete with nods of admiration and perhaps a teensy bit of embellishment.
While the packed room of sexagenarians was dancing and loving on each other, a great many conversations turned to who was not in attendance. Sometimes, updates were provided. Sometimes, the paths of our former classmates were unknown.
I surmised that most of us realized we were a class that deserved respect for bunches of reasons. We worked hard and overcame obstacles and temptations. Some of us made bad choices and still triumphed. Some did not. Collectively, we made it through profound changes to American politics and societal norms. Heck, we graduated without Google or Wikipedia! Dadgummit, we earned those senior discounts and social security checks!
As one would expect, our class covered the gamut of professions. Some were still winding down careers. Others had scaled back but were still working because supporting their longstanding clients and communities was the right thing to do. I was immensely proud of how many of my former classmates had long careers as teachers and nurses, in law enforcement and in the military. We were preachers, lawyers, architects, engineers, entrepreneurs and small-business owners. We were in social and community services and government. We were in support/service and nonprofit industries. Lots of paths taken. We did our part. We contributed.
When we left behind our teenage years and the halls of our high school, we didn’t realize we were making memories and creating bonds that would last another 50 years. That was the furthest thing from our young minds. We simply recognized that we had had bunches of fun with our buds and gal pals, and it was time to move on to push open new doors and search out new opportunities.
Amazingly, some five decades later, everyone showed up older and miraculously grew young again.
That was in sad contrast to the lengthy “In Memoriam” list of deceased classmates displayed at the front of the room. During reunion planning, I studied the list, name by name, recalling most of the recorded schoolmates but not all. Some were casual passersby in the halls of the high school. For others, I swallowed hard with a shake of my head as I recalled the closeness and kinship I experienced those many years ago with now-departed brethren. The solemn list and the evening’s moment of silence were blunt reminders that time irrevocably passes.
Another of the evening’s highlights was learning that a handful of our classmates who had major teenage crushes five decades ago had in fact made the correct choices back in the day. Their first loves turned out to be their always-and-forever life partners! C’mon. How cool is that?
(Sidebar: I suppose we all had crushes back then, but most of us were too shy or awkward to embrace [pun intended] them.)
Without question, gathering as a family strengthens the connections made long ago. On this special evening, we were just happy to be together, share memories and renew friendships. Some classmates trekked six time zones to attend the reunion. Others commuted less than 30 minutes.
The amount of years of catching up we crammed into one carefree evening was ridiculous. Years have passed, but memories — some priceless, some heartbreaking — are still very much alive in our group of classmates.
At the evening’s conclusion and amidst goodbye hugs, we swapped contact information and promised to stay in better touch. To take full advantage of social media and the short physical distances between some of us. Perhaps we’d even try to plan another reunion.
A few days later, one of our most beloved and upbeat classmates pointed out that in five years, we members of the Class of 1973 would be 73 years of age. Though the march of time is categorically relentless, that tidy piece of kismet may just be too hard to resist.
I learned a few things during this memorable gathering. First, that high school has a way of holding onto you forever. Our roots remain as one. We all take different paths in life, but no matter where we go, we take a little of each other everywhere. The joy and the gratitude that my 50-year reunion brought will stay in my heart forever.