Receiving an invitation to your high school class reunion can be emotionally complex, to say the least. Here is proof that you are aging (and quickly!), as well as a solicitation to go socialize with other aging folk with whom you may or may not have gotten along when you were younger. You might feel worried about what they’ll think of you, stressed about having to travel back home to attend, or—if you stuck around after graduation and still hang out with your hometown pals—bored by the idea.
But if you’ve shunned those reunions in the past, you should go to the next one. Here’s why.
Reunions are not that scary
The 1997 classic known as Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion made class reunions look terrifying, but also kind of fashionable. Neither is really accurate, although you can certainly dress up if you want to flex a little. Other than that, these things are pretty casual—but you might still have some anxiety.
Consider this: In high school, I was voted to be in charge of planning my class’ 10-year reunion. That tracked with my personality at the time, as I was obsessed with being successful in extracurriculars and generally being a pretentious brown-noser. Nine or so years later, when it hit me I had to plan out an event in my hometown, half a country away, I was not pleased; I’d lost the overachieving sensibility that drove me as a teen, at least when it came to school activities.
I say this because I want to demonstrate how much people change between high school and adulthood—even that first decade in. I’m grateful I got to go back and hang out with old friends, none of whom held any kind of long-standing resentment against me for being downright annoying and maniacally eager in my youth. Similarly, anyone I’d considered “mean” or “standoffish” in high school turned out to be perfectly nice in their late 20s.
If you fear, as Romy and Michele did, that the social divisions between jocks and nerds (or whatever cliques your school had at the time you attended) will somehow reemerge at the reunion and you’ll be typecast and segregated once again, try to take a step back and shift your perspective. You’ve undoubtedly changed through the years, and so has everyone else. This is a good chance to get to know them for who they are, not who you remember from an era when you were all desperately trying to figure out who you would become.
“It’s definitely a concern and I think it’s a concern for everybody; for the most popular person in the class, it’s as big a concern as for somebody who thinks nobody would remember them,” said Varsity Reunions’ Cyndi Clamp, who serves as president of the National Association of Reunion Managers and estimates she’s organized about 300 reunions. “Time changes everything …. It’s easy to say, ‘We started at 18 and this is who I was then,’ but that’s not who you are. Now, you’re a totally different person than who you were when you were 18 years old and the beauty is that everybody else is a totally different person, too.”
You can show what you’re up to, but it’s not a competition
On the opposite end of Romy and Michele on the reunion-in-pop-culture spectrum, you have John Mayer’s 1999 hit, “No Such Thing,” which ends with him declaring, “I just can’t wait ‘til my 10-year reunion / I’m gonna bust down the double doors / and when I stand on this table before you / you will know what all this time was for.” Where Romy and Michele were worried they weren’t successful enough to wow their classmates, Mayer was reasonably confident he was so successful that he’d stunt on everyone who stopped him from “[living] the dreams of the prom kings.”
Neither scenario is that reflective of real life. When you’re standing in your old gym or around a bar in your hometown, you won’t be engaging in that much of a pissing contest. Once you have a beer and get some hugs from old friends, your mind won’t be on cutthroat competition. This is supposed to be fun.
To anyone concerned their successes won’t stack up against their former classmates’, Clamp has a question: “So what?”
She went on, “Everything—whatever you do in your life—is so individual and true to who you are. Not everybody is an astronaut. Not everybody is on the Supreme Court. People have successes in their own ways and who’s to say yours is any less valuable than somebody else’s?”
Clamp also reiterated that in reality, “nobody cares about that” and this sort of conversation “does not come up at the reunion very often at all.” She’s overseen the reunions of about 20,000 people in the last 20 years, so if competition were trending at these things, she’d know.
You can network professionally
As mentioned, you and your classmates pursued different endeavors after graduation. Not only will it be interesting to hear what they’re up to, but you never know if there’s a way you can work together or use your adulthood-minted skills to help each other.
It could be strange to swap business cards with the same person with whom you passed your first joint, but it’s no weirder than having cheap champagne with a prospective partner at a company holiday party. Opportunities are everywhere, but knowing someone gives you a leg up when it comes to working together or learning from them.
“People who may be looking for a job or are in between jobs can certainly have the opportunity to meet other classmates who may be able to help them in their career,” Clamp said, but she added, “there are so many different levels of how people reconnect at a reunion,” which leads us to…
You can get a few do-overs
We all have regrets and even if your four years of high school were your “glory days,” some of yours probably stem from that time period. You might have wanted to talk to that loner girl, thank a friend for seeing you through a hard time, or apologize to someone you hurt—but didn’t because you were busy navigating one of life’s most disconcerting developmental stages.
Here’s your chance. Get to know someone in your class that you weren’t close to in your teenage years. Offer up a sincere apology to someone you weren’t kind to. If your reunion involves teachers, make sure to thank them for what they did for you. If you were a shy kid, socialize. If you were boisterous and rude, listen. You have years’ worth of adult experiences now and are a more developed person than you used to be, so why not put that version of yourself on display and redo what you aren’t proud of?
OK, so gratitude and contrition are great and all, but maybe you’re really here because you want to know if reunions facilitate hookups. According to Clamp, they totally do: “There are many times that classmates reconnect at their high school reunion and form a relationship from that.”
Beyond professional or romantic links, consider, too, that this is one of the rare opportunities you’ll have to socialize with such a specific peer group. These people grew up where you did and in the same time period you did. You’re all the same age, navigating similar challenges that come with that age. Clamp said “it’s really kind of fun to see how people can become friends with somebody that they maybe haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years in an entirely different way.”
Real life is better than social media
Reunions can seem kind of pointless now that social media enables us to peer in on the lives of old acquaintances, but as you know, social media is not real life. Well, it kind of is these days, but it’s still worth it to go see everyone face-to-face.
You can reminisce, make amends, and have meaningful conversations much easier in real life than you can on Facebook or Instagram. Online, people share tidbits, but in person, they end up sharing much more through mannerisms, looks, and a sense of openness.
This is a chance to reconnect with where you came from and the people who shaped the early parts of your life. Your phone screen won’t show you how someone has changed or grown, and it won’t make you laugh out loud at ridiculous old memories.
While Clamp admits “social media was a game changer for high school reunions,” she contends that it just can’t replicate the real deal.
“People have really come back around to seeing the value of being in a room with somebody and being able to talk to somebody, being able to hug a friend that you haven’t seen in years, to shake a hand, to hear somebody’s laugh, to tell those stories,” she said. “There’s no substitute for being in that room together and being able to celebrate together.”
If we learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that the high-tech version of human interaction is lacking what makes that interaction so special. My reunion was supposed to take place in 2020 but got bumped to 2021, and while I was grateful for the extra year to plan, the best part of the event was just getting to see all my old friends face-to-face. It’s a unique opportunity you should take advantage of at least once, because you never know when we’ll be stuck in our homes again.