Random Thoughts / Who knew reunions are fun?
Published 6:41 pm, Thursday, June 9, 2011
This past weekend we went to my husband's 40th college reunion in New York. Though it as an all-male college back then, in a way it was my reunion too, because we were dating and then married while he was in college. I knew all of his friends. We are still friends with one of the couples we knew then, and they suggested we attend the reunion. Mostly, we went just to spend an evening with them.
Reunions haven't held much appeal for either my husband or me. Neither of us has gone to any of our high school or college get-togethers. Yes, I am curious about what has become of people I knew long ago, but not enough to spend time with people I didn't know then and aren't interested in now.
I also do not relish the thought of seeing my peers age. It's hard enough seeing people I know and care about get older, but at least the change is gradual when you see them often. The whole point of reunions, it seems, is to be startled by the way people look as the years go by.
Mostly we haven't gone to reunions because we didn't believe that we would feel a bond with a bunch of people simply because we were in the same class at the same school.
The suspicion that I would be shocked at the signs of age in my husband's college contemporaries was confirmed when we walked into the school building where the reunion was held. At first we thought we were in the wrong place. It was a room filled with white-haired, rumpled, glasses-wearing, old people. Though I asked my husband why we had come to a party filled with our parents' friends, I had a sinking feeling that we were indeed in the right place.
We wandered around for a bit, feeling disoriented by these strange looking people who were supposedly once carefree college kids along with us.
Finally my husband saw someone he knew -- someone who even looked familiar to me, retaining the imprint of his youth along with his dark hair. This man and my husband began to laugh about their college doings, and play the "do you remember" game.
Then the conversation turned to the present, their careers, and the inevitable exchange of cards. It was fun to talk with him -- to go back in time and to find out about the present. I did feel some tie with this voice from the past.
At that point the organizers summoned the alums to the steps for a class picture. Suddenly these dignified men no longer seemed like old people, but like the college kids they once had been. They jostled each other on the steps, insulted each other, and made stupid jokes. We spouses standing below called out suggestions: "smile, fix your hair, move to the right so I can see you" like a bunch of fussy moms. The flash went off a few times and the pictures were taken, but instead of breaking up, the group spontaneously broke into the college fight song. Maybe the pull of shared experiences from forty years ago was stronger than I had thought.
At dinner we sat with people we didn't know -- one couple, and three men without their wives. They all had come back to New York from their homes in California. Later, we saw someone we actually remembered. He and his wife had come all the way from Oregon. Again, I wondered what made these men's desire to come together every five or 10 years so strong. My husband and I were reluctant to attend when we only had to take an hour's car trip!
Then one of their classmates, a reunion organizer, spoke. He talked about how active this class had been, how strong their allegiance to their old school. These men were freshman in 1967, the year of the student riots. They all had memories of students throwing bricks, police throwing tear gas, and damage and disruption all around. The speaker said that this experience created a special common allegiance among the members this class.
I do think the experiences they shared had a lasting impact. But all classes share experiences, even if they are not as dramatic as riot squads. I suppose that is the point of reunions. We like to be part of a group.
We can feel solidarity with fellow members of a fitness class, or fellow knitters, or fellow readers. We grasp at any straw to create commonality. What creates a stronger sense of shared identity than being part of the same school class?
I saw this as we joined the big
after-party later in the evening. There were people celebrating their five, 10, 20, 50 year reunions.
They looked so happy together, clearly enjoying that sense of belonging to their own special group. My husband and I turned to each other and both said, "Let's come back for the 50th."
Carol Randel's "Random Thoughts" appears every other Friday.