I have always been a reunion-goer – but selectively. My extroverted personality style and history as class president/organizer for various events in high school and college both, made me the typical and expected attendee, and naturally, contributor to both schools. It’s been weeks since I am back from my 45th reunion at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN and I am, at last, satisfied with my reaction to this reunion, that which being my most gratifying.
First, let me mention a few other “facts” of my school and reunion history:
- I have attended most reunions at my Catholic, all female high school and college every 5 years since graduation in 1967 and 1971 even though I kept going to various graduate schools, and had left the Catholic Church.
- Though I earned an MA from NYU, MBA from Fordham and Ed.D from Columbia – a New York trifecta that I am enormously proud of, no reunion except one at Columbia, once, have gotten me to revisit the old school buildings/connections where I labored and learned for decades.
High school and then its extension: college – were part of my foundation, my grounding. Those, the core values I developed: values of caring about others, working hard to achieve, being self-disciplined and clear about my responsibility to myself, family and others were Catholic in the broadest sense of the word. They were also places that friendship and connections played a deep part. There was learning not just about history and math, but also what it means to be a good person, a citizen, a friend and a leader. Going to reunions at these institutions just made sense to me because I wanted to reconnect and see how my classmates had fared, and get some support for the life choices I was making. That just seemed like the graduation “contract” I made with these classmates and schools.
Conversely, I expected all of my graduate school education to make me a better professional and hone my knowledge and know-how in my field. I didn’t see them as places that molded my core values. Of course now, in retrospect, they enormously affected my values — reinforcing them from a humanistic perspective and did serve as places of wonderful relationships and connections. Because I didn’t see the experiences in this light, reunions did not seem as necessary. I am beginning to rethink that.
It struck me driving into South Bend, IN a few weeks ago, that it really did not make sense that I attended college in the middle of a cow field. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing – and SMC was/is a very good solid liberal arts college and such a peaceful setting could launch solid self-reflection and deep thinking. But still – really? The truth is, I always felt that the SMC decision was not the best for me – it was good, just not great.
By the end of high school, my emerging self wanted to go to Wellesley (something bigger, brighter and shinier) – Hillary would have been there as a junior when I started. She is busy, I hear, so likely she doesn’t miss that huge lost opportunity to be my good friend. But I did – at least in my fantasies. And there is the nub of it all – expectations not met causing me to miss the good that came instead. I realized on this reunion trip, I had always held a little “grudge” against SMC for not being Wellesley. Which is like resenting Bob your devoted husband because you “should have” married John – your fabulous perfect first love (yeah, right) that dumped you “causing” you to settle and marry OK Bob.
Making a very long story very short, it now appears to me that I never really got comfortable with all the good that I got from St. Mary’s…until this last reunion. While not my dream school, it was an institution filled with strong women leaders (mainly nuns at that time) struggling like all institutions then with dramatically confusing and changing times. SMC was trying to educate us for a world no one really understood – but convinced that with core values of service, giving of ourselves, discipline, hard work and just finishing, we would have what we needed to survive and hopefully thrive no matter what we did.
I realized, facilitating a session on “loss and moving forward” and sharing that platform with a wonderful former classmate, newly widowed, successful executive turned master healer was this: whatever it was or wasn’t, SMC helped support our budding adulthood. And, the women who went there were smart and thoughtful despite the sexism of the time. They, like SMC, did the best they could at the time and have continued to grow.
In the decades since, we took our freedom as it became more available, and became women likely SMC and our parents never expected. I know for sure SMC is trying to make sure they keep doing a great job of supporting women who matter. Wish I could tell them exactly what the formula is. Clearly, they were mostly on the right track, even when some of us didn’t know it, couldn’t get it, or hadn’t figured out yet that college, like the rest of life, is mainly what you make of it. No college, job, love, or unique experience creates us, we create ourselves – and right now I think what we are creating is pretty fabulous.
Bottom line? Consider going back to reunions and focus on being grateful for what good you got from the experience. Forget the rest and any remaining drama – thankfully we are great at forgetting things so we have a head start. Now to just being grateful – like everything fabulous, that’s hard.