Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Class Reunions

Recently a friend of mine attended the 50th reunion of his high school graduating class. He knew full well that it might be a shock to see these folks after they had scattered to the winds a half century ago.

My 50th high school class reunion has not yet taken place and my own thoughts about attending remain mixed. So I was anxious to hear my friend's report.

Time does not treat everyone the same. Not everyone ages well and not all stories have happy story lines. With that said, my friend's response to his reunion caught my interest.

Fifty years is a very long time. What resemblance does today's senior citizen have to the high school senior he/she was in 1962?

The answer seems to be: not very much.

The 1960s was a different time, to be sure. Whether students lived in small towns or large cities, the 60s were tumultuous. Life was transitioning from the post-war conservative atmosphere depicted by James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" to the bikini-clad frenzy of the so-called "beach" movies. We were leaving a period ruled by the Cold War, McCarthyism and repression to one of blonde surfers and loosening restraints. It was a period of change and teenagers -- particularly those graduating from high school and entering the real world -- were caught in the middle.

Many students during the 1960s went into the jungles of Southeast Asia and a large number of them never returned. The entire draft/avoid argument touched many of our lives, even those of two former U.S. presidents who did not serve. Those scars linger even today.

In the 1960s, many girls got married young and secretly hoped to stay home and raise the kiddies. After all, that's the role that women had filled for decades. Depending upon what happened down the road, many of those Betty Crocker wannabes found themselves entering the workplace, holding jobs and contributing paychecks. Life isn't always what we expect it to be. Today's young graduates -- men and women -- most probably expect to get a job, perhaps secure a career, regardless of the latest unemployment report.

For those who are lucky enough to find work in today's economy, a large number realize that the economy is far less secure than in the past. Fifty years ago, we could usually find work, even if the job paid less and was more entry-level than we hoped. We realized that circumstances would allow us to move up eventually to more pay and responsibility. If we were unhappy with a job, we could always move on. There was another opportunity just around the corner.

Many people who attend reunions bring with them varying degrees of health disorders, obesity and misery. Hearing their stories of loss and disappointment may not be for everyone. Some folks prefer not to share their stories; others relish revealing the wounds that life has brought. Just sharing with near strangers the intimate details of our lives might not be such a good idea. However, in the present obsession with social networking, not much personal information is withheld. Everyone prefers to think that their own tale of woe will garner some prize in the misery-loves-company lottery.

Many years ago, my mother attended her own 50th high school reunion. This was in the mid-1970s, long before the existence of the internet and email. Our family had moved 2,000 miles away from her hometown and yet somehow she received details about the reunion. My mother made the trek to attend and had a great time. I don't recall her relating the sad stories shared by her former classmates. In "those days" before instant communication, people were a little less inclined to share thorough and complete details about misfortune. Now, of course, anything goes and no details are omitted from normal conversation. Perhaps a little more decorum should be exercised.

Following his recent reunion, my friend shook his head. "I had so little in common with everyone," he said sadly. "I tried to carry on a conversation, I really did."

"Well, everyone has changed. After all, it's been 50 years! Everyone has moved on with their life, away from high school, not toward it," I reasoned.

"Then why even bother having reunions?" he asked.


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