My 50th high school reunion was supposed to be held this year. As with so many events these past months, COVID threw a wrench into those plans. Still, a number of classmates found ways to reconnect.
I took out my high school year book and flipped through the pages. While not quite the same experience as stepping into Dr. Who’s telephone booth, finding myself looking at pictures of remarkably young faces a half-century later was a bit disconcerting.
Looking Through Yearbooks
I have memories of going through my parents’ high school year books and thinking how sophisticated and grown-up they looked. An unfair comparison, perhaps, because their generation had survived a Depression and was headed into another World War.
The formally-posed shots of my classmates (myself included!) did not reassure me of either sophistication or adulthood. We cleaned up nicely (after all, this was the era of bell-bottom pants, macrame vests, and headbands), but did not leave any impression of authority or competence.
Who Is That?
Some of the faces were very familiar; others I would not have known without a caption. I actually did not recognize myself, having forgotten (happily!) the nightmare of getting the picture taken.
I have a (relatively) fixed memory of being a moody, wise, hormonally-challenged, angst-ridden intellectual. My class photo does not reflect that.
My four years of high school contained achievements and failures, successes and disappointments. I looked for my name in the many groups I vaguely remember participating in, but didn’t find it where I expected it to be. Instead of a snapshot, these experiences are suspended somewhere in my memory vaults.
Gathering 50 Years Later
While the official reunion was rescheduled, a number of classmates posted photos on Facebook of an unofficial gathering held at a local establishment for those who still lived nearby. Without the benefit of names being provided, I was unable to identify anyone. The men had gained weight, grown facial hair or become bald. The women had shortened their hair and either let it go gray or retained a color close to original. All seemed to have weathered the intervening decades, maturing physically and socially. It would have been a stretch, though, to match them with their Senior pictures – everybody had aged.
Looking at all these pictures did make me wonder whatever happened to ____________? I have Googled some of my classmates only to learn they have died. This is always disconcerting, since they are so very alive in my memory banks, frozen in those intense moments of our teenage years. Others have different names due to marriage and so, don’t pop up on my searches. Surprisingly, many still live near where we grew up.
I was more adventuresome. As I recall, I couldn’t wait to get away, meet new people, create a new persona, and explore what the world had to offer. I feel fortunate that I have that personality trait that is open to new experiences. Still, there is a bittersweet regret that the connections to folks I grew up with are so tenuous.
The Last 50 Years
I’ve accomplished an amazing amount in the last half century. And I intend to do more. When I time-travel back to my high school days, I almost always imagine asking my teachers and friends to forgive me for being such an ass. I follow that with thanking them for seeing things in me that I was blind to and that needed time to mature and evolve. I then do my Mona Lisa smile, and admit that I turned out pretty good. I will go out on a very sturdy limb here and suggest that this developmental arc is true for most of us.
There are people I would love to re-connect with and others I still tremble from fear of not being liked. There are folks I want to go up to and say, “See! I made something of myself and you, well, you don’t even deserve the time of day!” (I still retain some of the drama queen of my early years). There are folks I would love to share a glass of wine with and just find out what their life has been like.
I did go to one reunion, years ago. I found myself unable to staunch my insecurity, especially around classmates whom I assumed had it all together and who continued to exert their social dominance.
I clearly remember being on the periphery of a conversation with a small claque who were tight-knit in high school and continued their connection after graduation. Several had become professionals and were exceptionally well-dressed. I said “Hi” and in the introductions, dropped the fact that I was a PhD and was making a living as a psychologist. Apparently, this still did not meet their inclusion criteria, and I was dismissed after some minor small talk.
At least, that was what I translated my experience to mean. Always an outsider, never with the “In-Crowd”. More likely, it was that insecure high school persona who ran the conversation through the “I am less-than” filter and re-confirmed what I had always believed, evidence to the contrary.
Who I Am Now
What is true 50 years later, is that I have developed a new relationship with that persona. She is still hanging out, but no longer exerts the same kind of influence on me she did all those years ago.
50 years ago, I was excited about the life ahead of me — meeting new people, learning new things, becoming an adult. In retrospect, I am amazed at just how well all that turned out. I met extraordinary people, learned a considerable amount and have matured, (although I suspect “adulthood” will never be a stage I fully occupy).
Re-connecting with my classmates would certainly give me a comparison as well as a memory work-out. I do love those Hollywood Cinderella stories where the mousey teenager returns as the sophisticated, confident, sexy magnate. That makes for a good movie. What makes for a good life is different.
I am incredibly excited to announce the publication of my three-book series, Aging with Finesse, now available on Amazon.