Driving to my 50th high school reunion, I felt nervous. Would I spend much time standing alone, not seeing anyone to talk with? Would someone invite me to eat at her table? Did I dress appropriately?
High school concerns all over again. And another question besides: Divorced and childless, not having had the newspaper career I’d once hoped for, what did I have to say for my life?
The class of 1966 at our all-girls St. Francis Academy and all-boys Joliet Catholic High School, which are now one school, held a joint reunion on Saturday evening. I’d estimate that about a third of the SFA class of 252 was there, some traveling from as far away as Washington, DC, Florida, and California.
My jitters about the reunion were unfounded. A half century out, and many of us retired now, we were past needing to impress. Even though children and grandchildren came up repeatedly, my comparison meter didn’t engage.
It was surprising to realize how many people I would have recognized without name tags. “You look great” was heard frequently, but no one was dressed to kill. Many of the cool clique who had looked fashionable even in our uniforms were still stylish, but there was no longer a sense of them versus the rest of us.
Though I was liked enough in school to be elected to class office and edit the newspaper, I was still on the sidelines, in honors classes but not on the cheerleading squad. On Saturday evening, the former insiders embraced the outsiders. One woman reported that she was told, “There are so many nice people here. I wish I had treated them better in school.”
Most people were on our feet all five hours except during the meal, catching up with one person after another. My chats were mostly about the paths our lives took, not reminiscences. Many people followed traditional women’s roles — teacher, nurse, office worker, stay-at-home mom. That isn’t surprising; we had graduated before there was much talk of women’s liberation and had received no career counseling.
If the class produced any MDs or PhDs, I’m not aware of it. There are a couple of lawyers; considering that women made up only one in ten law school students in the early 1970s, they were trailblazers. But they didn’t gloat. One, who works for a nonprofit organization, talked about cause rather than career: “I am privileged to be in an organization I believe in.”
Do people who are unhappy and bitter stay away from reunions? I didn’t have any poignant heart-to-hearts, didn’t hear any bad luck stories or receive a delayed apology for ill treatment. Some people mentioned health issues and divorce, but nothing really tragic.
The tragedies were on the In Memoriam board, where photos of the two dozen classmates who have already died were posted. I was thinking about time and mortality as I left. Would I ever see the 50th anniversary attendees again? It had been decades since our last reunion. There might not be another.
But why do we go to these events to see classmates we haven’t cared enough to keep in touch with?
Maybe it’s partly out of curiosity, to see how people turned out. Maybe it’s that high school classmates share the arguably most formative four years in a lifetime. Even if you say that no one from that time matters in your life anymore, those years do. So, I’m glad I went. But I wasn’t disappointed that no one mentioned staying in touch. Going to the reunion honored the past, but I want to live in the present.