Two weeks ago, I attended a 50th grade school reunion. Our Lady of Lourdes was part of a Catholic parish in a small Cincinnati, Ohio neighborhood. About 100 of us – boys and girls – spent Grades 1 through 8 together and about half of us attended the reunion.
The last time I saw most of these classmates was at a 20th reunion when we were in our early 30’s. Now, thirty years later, we were all 64 years old.
Despite the fact that I told everyone I was “coerced” into attending by a girlfriend on the planning committee who I’ve stayed close to over the years, I was actually looking forward to it … and ended up having a good time.
Here are a few snapshots: The party was held in the school cafeteria where it felt weird to be drinking wine and beer; familiar late 50’s and early 60’s music played in the background; I told one of the guys that I had had a crush on him in 8th grade (it made his night, he said); another guy told me I was “hot” back then (who knew?); a girl I sang with in a quartet reminded me about a road trip with our choir director and his wife to a boy’s college when we were in the 8th grade; another one told me a funny story about my dad; one of the twin brothers who drove the teachers crazy with their pranks told us about a nun “clocking” him while he was running in the hallway; a life-size poster of the pastor of our church at the time – a much-disliked curmudgeon – was dressed up in hats and boas throughout the evening; and our favorite nun, Sister Mary Myra, now nearly 80 years old, shocked us by admitting that the nuns didn’t like him either! We also walked up two flights of marble steps (slowly, to accommodate arthritic knees) and toured a tiny 1st grade classroom, marveling at how we could have been so young and small.
In retrospect, there are several things I decided about 50th reunions:
- A 50th reunion is different. If you’re going to go to any reunion, this is probably the one to attend. By this time of our lives, posturing about jobs, financial success and our wonderful children is pretty much over. Instead, we’ve all made it this far in life, we know what we’ve become, it is what it is, we feel OK about it, and we’re at the reunion for reasons other than showing off or bragging. (Well, except for the grandkids.)
- We are at a more reflective and nostalgic time of our lives. Those of us who attend a 50th reunion either have stories to share or want to revisit some of the stories we’ve forgotten. Most of us have lost our parents – some many, many years ago – and no longer have the connection to the past that they provided. We’re curious about what went on in our lives in those early days and have an interest – unlike in our younger years – in remembering what we did and how we felt back then.
- We share a connection with these classmates that is different from the one we share with later-life friends. We are all the same age (how weird is that?), we spent many years together in a small space, we dealt with the same authority figures, we all learned to get under our desks in case of a nuclear war, we shared the same childhood insecurities … and in the case of our class, we ate the same delicious jellyrolls from the bakery across the street. (The bakery is long gone, but someone found a source and brought jellyrolls to the reunion. How great is that?)
- Everyone thinks they look 10 years younger than everyone else. 50th reunion attendees are grateful to be healthy enough to attend an evening reunion, although most of us want to be in bed by 11:30pm. And, we feel that we’ve done OK in the aging department. In fact, better than most, if we have to say so ourselves! Actually, we don’t see 64 year olds anyway when we look at other attendees — we see the kids we used to be!
- It’s all about the good memories. Yes, we had things happen to us in school that we’d rather forget. But, those things aren’t what anyone wants to talk about at this age. 50th reunion attendees are more interested in remembering fun stuff and sharing a laugh or two or three.
So, go ahead and attend your 50th reunion – grade school or high school. And, if you do, here are some suggestions based on my recent experience:
- Look at the eyes! You’ll be more likely to “see” the kid you knew.
- Don’t say “Do you know who I am?” while hiding your name tag. Introduce yourself. You might be pleasantly surprised if people remember you before your self-introduction, but if not, at least you won’t get blank stares. (Ladies … Use your maiden name. It’s the only one your classmates will know or care about!)
- Spend some time in advance of the reunion coming up with a story you can share. If you have photos or school albums, they’ll jog your memory.
- Use the time you spend with classmates asking them to share stories and memories. You could find a few gems among them.
- Don’t talk about your health problems. We all have them and we don’t want to talk about them. (And … if someone isn’t there, don’t speculate about whether they died. Assume they had another commitment or, better yet, that they are on a luxury cruise to Tahiti!)
- Tell everyone they look great … why the hell not!
My 50th reunion didn’t change my life – and it probably won’t change yours either. But with the right attitude and approach, it can be a pleasant way to take a little stroll back in time and uncover some of the things that made you the person you are today.
And … you might even get to savor some jellyrolls or other goodies from the past!