Back to High School

“I hated everyone then and there’s no reason to think I’d like anyone now.” That was the email refusal my friends Karyn, Ronnie and I got from Steven B., a high school classmate of ours to our invitation to a class reunion of more years than I want to document. We received one or two others along that pleasant line, but by and large the reception to what would be only our second reunion in multiple decades was, “WOW!”

People from parts north, south, east and west traveled thousands of miles – or a few blocks – to attend the reunion of a class bound by a shared history that included the launch of Sputnick and the Cuban missile crisis (“If you knew you were going to die, would you ‘do it?’”), the assassinations of President and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the dawn of rock ‘n roll, and the first Beatles concert in the U.S. We listened to Murray the K and Cousin Brucie (who Ronnie got to tape a special message for our class). AIDS was a far-off problem, banana splits were 39 cents at Woolworth’s, there were no cell phones or Internet.

Schools did not track alumni, so you can imagine how daunting a task it was to find people with names like Smith, not to mention the near impossibility of finding women whose names had changed with marriage, often more than once. We took on the challenge despite full-time jobs and spent, I am not kidding, five or six hours a day online and on the phone pursuing leads like “I know she lived in North Carolina 12 years ago,” or “Her sister lives in New Hampshire and her married name, I think, is Walters or Waters or something like that.”

With each connection we made came “remember the time we . . .” reminiscences, or conspicuous indifference, or “What can I do to help?” and in some instances profound sadness as we learned of classmates who died as kids in Vietnam or were felled by illness or tragedy later on. Widows and widowers told us they hoped we’d honor their spouses, which we did.

A year and a half later, I still cannot describe what went on in that field house at Camp Driftwood in Plainview, NY, the venue offered up by Ronnie. There were the expected screams of recognition and excitement at seeing people you hadn’t seen for decades. There was the expected, “Do you know who I am?” There were the surprises about how great some people looked, and there was a ton of food and drink.

What was unexpected, and it’s hard to say this in a way that doesn’t sound sappy silly, was the magic. It was as if each of us ingested a feel-good potion. People did not just seek out their high school friends; instead there was a spectacular inclusiveness of the kind that doesn’t happen when you are a kid. People reconnected and new friends were made and we danced and ate and talked until we had no voices left. Those of us who stayed at a nearby hotel could not get ourselves to get up out of our breakfast seats to leave. We didn’t want to break the spell, but it was time.

We learned that you can go back again, that no matter who you were in high school, there is a powerful connection to those with whom you shared such an important time of life. But as with all good things, it is good for a reunion to end while you are still wanting more, before you feel like you’ve had too much!

High School Reunion Tips From a Veteran

If you graduated before high schools kept alumni records and are considering making a reunion, go for it. Here are some things to consider in putting the event together:

· Some parents still live in the homes they did when their kids were in high school

· Facebook, of course. Make a group and look up individuals. Many women put their maiden names on their profiles so people can find them. Blog. Tweet

· Establish a reunion site for the committee working on the reunion. That way all questions, information and responses come in to one place and whichever committee member gets to it first can respond

· Keep pushing, beseeching, begging, nagging, emailing, calling the people you do have to ask them to think hard about people they might be able to find and get back to you with contact information

· If people ask if they can help, give them specific assignments: Try to find these 10 people, and give them a template to work from so you get back notes of what they tried (so you don’t repeat their actions) and the information you need about people they’ve found: email address, maiden/married names, phone numbers of those who are willing to provide, home addresses, the names of people they think they can help you find.

· We found the sites designed to get you in touch with your classmates were a good starting-off point but a nightmare to work with because they don’t allow you to include any email addresses in the messages you send out. They want all activity to stay on their (cumbersome, annoying ) sites.

· People-search sites are proliferating. Google to find them

· If you know where people went to school, contact their alumni associations

· Price is an issue for many, especially if they will also be paying for flights and hotel accommodations. It is not about the venue. It is about how relaxed the venue makes people feel. We used the social hall at a day camp owned by one of our classmates and made the event casual. No parking, no fancy dresses to buy, no facility fee.

· Encourage people to bring memorabilia and have a display table

· Use yearbook photos to create badges (big type), a DVD to run during the event (and be given out as a takeaway), showing the photos, then and now, of everyone attending (not easy getting those “now photos), and a reunion yearbook on CD that provides additional information about each person . The event is too special to skip the favors. We also gave out hats.

· We wanted to honor those in our class who died without changing the happy mood, so we created an in memoriam board on an easel

· Be careful about hiring reunion companies. They often do less work than you are willing to do and use the same venues you would to find fewer people. We learned this at our 20th and did the work ourselves for the more recent one.

· Keep the invitation handy. You will have to send it out again and again and again and again. Ditto directions.

· Let the music be loud enough to dance to, soft enough for people to talk over

· Talk to people you never talked to during high school. Bring lozenges to soothe your throat which will ache from screaming. Have the best time of your life. Bask in the afterglow of what you’ve accomplished and how much it was appreciated.