October 22, 2012

High School Reunions: What's the Appeal?

I will admit right away that I have never been to a reunion at Lynnfield High School in suburban Boston. Since I graduated 45 years ago I imagine I've missed several. I should add I have never been invited, but I prefer to think that is because I have never given the folks in charge my various addresses.

My junior and senior high school years in Lynnfield were good ones. I was active in the band, school newspaper, and student council. I was on the track team for one year until I realized that throwing up after every 100 meter sprint was not a lot of fun. But, overall, I had an enjoyable time. I certainly wasn't in the most popular clique of kids at school, but I had lots of friends.

So, do I feel I have missed anything by not going back for a reunion? No. I have not been in touch with anyone from those years in over four decades. I'd be lucky to identify one or two people, much less have any meaningful discussions beyond the "My job was..." and "My family is..."

I know many folks my age have traveled back to their own reunions over the years. When asked, they tell me it was worth the trip. Old friendships were renewed and memories strengthened. Sharing pictures and a bit of bragging were fun. Still, I have never been motivated to go. Besides, isn't that what Facebook is for: having exchanges with old friends without the hassle and expense of travel?

In doing a bit of research for this post, I discovered I am not alone in this question about the relevance of reunions and their place in the age of Skype and Facebook. An article on Boston.com from a month ago gave a plausible reason why attending reunions makes some sense. The author, Farah Stockman, said "Maybe.... we go back to our reunions to see how far we have come."  Of course that implies a comparisons of society-defined versions of success and failure: the lawyer or doctor will probably feel he or she has come farther than the unpublished poet or small store owner. But, for someone who was not very popular during those school years, coming back does allow for validation and a boost in self-confidence.

While figures are not terribly reliable, many businesses who organize reunions and all that goes with them have reported a noticeable drop in attendance over the past few years. They speculate social media has been a major player in that decline. Basically, the feeling is why travel to meet someone who you have already established regular contact through Internet options? 

Not willing to give up without a fight, one company that sells reunion services has provided a list of 31 reasons why you should attend your reunion. Aimed at folks much younger that us, there may be some valid reasons to you. Another site actually has hints on what to do and not do if you go: How-to-attend-your-high-school-reunion.


Since I have never been to a reunion I'm going to turn this post over to you. I have a few basic questions that I'd love for you to answer:

1. Have you ever been to a high school reunion?
2. Why did you go?
3. How did it turn out?


If you have not gone to a reunion, then:

1. Why not?
2. Do you regret not attending?


Consider this post part of my continuing education. Maybe I will realize I have missed something important in my life. Or, maybe not.


59 comments:

  1. 1. Why not? Wanted to go, but being busy raising a family & working & distance away,... always got in the way. It was sort of like number 11 on a list of 10 things to do.

    2. Do you regret not attending? Yes, I do wish I would have participated.

    Bob, your point is spot on - with Facebook and such, the reunion experience is not/will not be the same. This "being connected" thing with virtually everyone from the past, I believe will impact things more than we realize. However that might be for the Sociologists 100 years from now.

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    1. By the time of one the meaningful reunions, like the 10th or 20th, I lived too far away for it to be simple affair to attend. It just never seemed worth the effort or the cost.

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  2. I've been to only one reunion, the 20th, and that was 21 years ago. An old man met me at the door, and I tried to place which teacher he was. Then I realized he was a classmate! The people I really wanted to see didn't show up.

    I went because I wanted my classmates to see that I had indeed done well. Then I realized no one really cared how I had done, and most of all I didn't really care what anyone else thought. So I've never been back.
    Jeff in Oklahoma

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    1. We reach a certain point in life where what others think is no longer that important, the exact opposite of our mental state during High School years. Teen years are all about fitting in and being accepted. Thank goodness most folks outgrow that phase!

      I laughed at your "old man" reference. That would be scary when you realize he was probably thinking the same thing about you!

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  3. No, never attended one. But hey, I never knew you were from my neck of the woods. I grew up in Marblehead and attended MHS. Small world!

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    1. Yep, junior and senior high school in Lynnfield. I started my radio career working at a small station in Beverly, then moved on to a station in Lynn before leaving for college in Syracuse, NY.

      Have been to Marblehead many times....beautiful area.

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    2. I lived in Beverly as well. I went to elementary school and junior high there.

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    3. The radio station's studios and towers were actually in Danversport, by the river, and not far from the North Shore Mall.

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  4. I went to my 40th year reunion mainly because some of my classmates "found" me. Like you I just didn't have much enthusiasm for going back what seemed like a couple of lives ago.

    Because of my deafness, which occurred twenty years after high school, the time proved to be a less than pleasant experience. My best friend from those years when he found out I was deaf avoided me the entire time. Others gave me a casual "hi" and then went on to other classmates. It was mostly sitting in the background for four hours. I know I share the blame for some of this but when you go back to such things a this you tend to take on the persona of those years. I wasn't deaf then so couldn't cope with that fact.

    I know some will expect me to come to the 50th but I will likely invent some excuse to not go this time.

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    1. That must have been difficult for you and obviously awkward for them. Most people don't know how to respond in such a situation so they walk away. Living with a wife who is hard of hearing even with aids has taught me the type of patience and understanding your classmates didn't have.

      Isn't it odd: people know you will have changed but aren't prepared for it.

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  5. Deb and I went to both of our 20th year reunions, but missed our 30th. The main reason we went was that we still lived in the state of our graduation at that time, making it fairly convenient. Mine was enjoyed by both of us, while Deb's was not liked by either of us. Probably due to the smaller nature of my class size - less in the way of cliques, and more friendly. Now that we live further away, and our ties to that state are more diminished, I am not sure it is worth it to us to travel to any in the future.

    I believe most people go to these things because they want to see how others have done in life, as well as see who has aged more than they have. The latter reason may not be the most generous but it is probably true for many. In some cases there are genuine friendships that can be rekindled, but after all the years that is more difficult than people imagine. Lastly, you have some that are divorced that are looking for a mate, and remember fondly some situation from their high school days that they want to relive. Funny how we grow up, but not really.

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    1. I think you have summarized the reasons why I haven't gone quite well. My image is of an event where people are parading their "success" and seeing how they stack up. I left that mindset behind when I graduated - why revisit it?

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  6. I've been to two. The first was not really a reunion. A popular science teacher was retiring, and several classes got together to bid him farewell. This was 12 or 13 years after graduation, and it was great to see my friends and all the familiar faces and find out what people were doing.

    The second was my 25 h.s. reunion. I enjoyed that one as well, but not as much. Those high school days were receding into the past, and those old classmates seemed too much like strangers.

    Honestly, I would have no interest in going back again. Just too long ago and far away. That's my opinion. But my older sister recently went back to her 50th -- and she got a real kick out of it. So, I guess it all depends on whether you feel the lure or not.

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    1. Yes, I should avoid blanket assessments of the experience. For some, reunions are important and fill a need to reconnect with those who were important to us at a major time in our life. Your sister is one of those people.

      I moved so many times that in the days before Facebook I quickly lost contact with anyone who I might remember fondly.

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  7. How funny... your continuing education. lol.
    I doubt anyone I went to school with would remember me and I'm pretty sure they would never know how to find me.
    Oddly enough I made contact with a woman I went to high school with on facebook. I can't even remember how it came about because we hardly knew each other in school. I really enjoy keeping up with her, especially since she and her husband recently retired and moved to Pine Key, Fl.
    My husband attended one high school reunion and I went along. After that experience I would recommend spouses not bother. I'm not sure he would be interested in going to another one either.
    b

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    1. I hadn't thought of that, but a spousal reunion would really be a strain...and possibly awkward if an old flame appeared and recounted past romantic adventures about your husband or wife!

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  8. If someone's an important part of your life (high school best friend, military shipmate) then you keep in touch with them over the years. Maybe they're even like family. You might get together on your own, or you develop a long-distance relationship.

    Casual relationships aren't maintained, but they're occasionally refreshed at reunions. Now we do reunions over Facebook all the time:
    "Hey, you're on Facebook! What have you been up to?"
    "Working, raising a family, taking these photos. You?"
    "Me, too! See you around."
    "Later."
    Repeat on Linkedin and Google+, maybe on a discussion board.

    You've just learned everything you wanted to know. Why travel thousands of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to do it in a noisy, dimly-lit room?

    My time is important to me. I'd rather spend it with the friends who are important to me.

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    1. I had friends in high school but none were particularly close. I'm not sure most guys form the type of close relationships that girls do in school.

      I am a very different person from who I was in high school. Whatever I shared with the guys back then is no longer relevant.

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  9. Been to two..the 30th and the 45th. My husband and grew up in the same town with same friends from first grade through twelfth. Great high school experience. Then we moved across the country. Going back is great. At first it feels awkward... they look like strangers, but very quickly it feel like they are our old buddies again. We can be our old silly selves. We danced the old dances, we told the old jokes and stories. They knew and loved our families. They share a part of our history that our new friends do not. A lot better than facebook. A friend who has attended all of them says that the first few seemed more about "success" and "appearance", but as we got older it was more about the friendships.

    If you had a good experience in high school I recommend revisiting it.

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    1. Thanks Judy, for such a positive response. Growing up with the same group of kids certainly makes a big difference. Then, you are renewing common experiences, not trying to "prove" how well you are doing. That makes a reunion a rather joyous time.

      My parents had lifelong friends that they stayed in touch with for over 50 years. But as a family we moved 22 times while my brothers and I were growing up. I'm surprised we made any friends at all!

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  10. I went to my 20 yr reunion. I was curious. It was OK, but the friends I really wanted to see were not there. However, I am glad that I went. There was a boy in high school that I had a huge crush on who treated me not so nice. We are both married to other people now. At the reunion, he appologized for being such a jerk in high school. That made it possible for me to seal a hole in my heart, even though it no longer had any relevance in my life. Have not gone to one since, and have no desire to go again. However, my father-in-law attended his 50th and loved it - he had more hair than any of the other guys!

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    1. Nice story. Allowing for long-overdue closure was a great outcome. I'm glad you shared this perfect reunion moment.

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  11. I still have some friends from high school, and I live locally, but still have been to only one reunion, the 30th, and had a terrible time and will not go again. (I did write a funny story about it, though, so the experience wasn't totally wasted.) I have gone to several college reunions, even though I travel thousands of miles and am out of touch with everyone I went to school with, and I always have a good time. I think the difference is because my high school class was big, and I hated high school; my college class was very small and my experience there really formed who I am as an adult. I'm looking forward to my college's 50th reunion -- they really wine and dine the alumni for that! (No doubt with lots of references to estate planning.)

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    1. When I think of reunions I think of high school, not college. I wonder why? My career and adult life was really set up by my college years so that should have more appeal to me. But Syracuse is a long way from Arizona and I have never been contacted by anyone.

      I was president of my fraternity for a year and even they have never reached out for money or attendance. Odd.

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  12. Bob,
    I attended my 10th and 20th but just missed my 40th which was held on October 5th. Facebook keeps me in touch with people I care about, so no need to spend a fortune to connect with the others. Also, since my mom still lives in the town I grew up in I have arranged lunches with girlfriends throughout the years while I am visiting her.

    I agree with Judy about "purpose." The first couple are about bragging and comparing lives, children, etc. while the later years are more about friendships. Funny how we get past all the bull**** as we get older.

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    1. Using the "mom" connection to see old friends: smart! That avoids all those awkward "who are you again?" moments.

      I still don't think I missed anything but I must say I am somewhat surprised by the number of positive comments about reunions. I learn something new everyday.

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  13. Oh yes, my wife and I have both gone to our own and each other’s reunions -- early ones (5, 10, 15, 20, or 25 in some combination for both). Haven’t been to any in recent years. Personally, don’t feel the need for any more. My wife may still have us attend another one or two of hers. A few years ago, we almost went to one. Truthfully, we hit the wall on that one because of the high per plate dinner cost. You’d think this was a celebrity political fundraising event.

    We went to our own respective reunions for probably different reasons. Not sure that I could or should describe the reasons for both us. We each had occupied different “roles” in the cast of our high schools. However tawdry by our own estimation, one of us was near the top of the superficial social scale, and one was not.

    Recall of details from the several evenings spent in reunion years ago may be faulty. However we did for the most part have a good time together. And it was interesting together navigating the occasionally strained or awkward latent relationships to rarely find one or two mutually satisfying conversations.

    Indeed, what's the appeal

    ??

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    1. You and your wife certainly have enough experiences at reunions to offer valuable insight. I hadn't realized they had become such expensive propositions.

      I found a new expression I like: "superficial social scale." Doesn't that describe the high school years for many of us?

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  14. Beginning with the 25th high school reunion I have been to most of the 5-year celebrations right through 50th. Why go? It was a good tie in with a visit back to see family -- I haven't lived in the same state for a long, long time and visits were mainly annual. They are fewer now that only my brother remains and we haven't much in common.

    They were interesting to see what people were doing. But for the 50th a couple of people went all out, one guy got a booklet together and another did a slide show of snapshots on CD for everyone. By then people were beginning to drop away. I didn't get to the 55th to years ago. But as a result of the 50th one woman has taken it upon herself to email everyone of class news at the beginning of each month. Often it's a litany of illnesses, but not always. Another guy has collected all the emails and sends us humorous or entertaining clips, mostly from You Tube. To me the Democrat bashing at election time is a strain otherwise I am glad to be tangentally in touch. We were a rural group, only 56 of us to begin with and now half have died. It's a touchstone with reality. And I'm glad to reconnect although our various lives are far different than most of us would have guessed. I feel a warmth I didn't feel back in high school.

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    1. A very nice summary, June. Just like other groups of older folks, illness seems to be topic #1. But, isn't it nice that a few folks put together all the extra material. Even with a small, surviving class that is not an easy chore.

      BTW, I just clicked over to your blog, Calendar Pages. What a great name!

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  15. I went to my 40th high school reunion-had a wonderful time. I was so happy to find out that people who didn't do that well in school did just fine at life.
    The first college reunion I went to was my 35th. Had a great time and made new friends. I now regularly attend alumni events. I dreaded the first reunion I attended and now I'm so glad I went. Keep an open mind if you have never gone to one. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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    1. As I noted in a response to QwkDrw I am surprised at the number of positive experiences. I know they wouldn't have been right for me. But that others found them so pleasant, I will publicly say my perceptions have changed about their overall appeal.

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  16. Yes, as you know Bob, I did have a class reunion this summer...after 53 years. I graduated with a class of only 17. We left each other with a lot of unfinished business. It really was very strange for a group of young people that had grown up as brothers and sisters to simple walk away with no thought of the heritage that we shared. We lived through the death of a classmate and the knowledge that some of us were damaged because of terrible home lives. Maybe it was our way of surviving and moving on.

    But when we gathered again we cried and embraces with the love we felt for each other. We explained why we had been the way we were and came to understand how others saw us as we grew up. I was privileged in that world even though I was raised in very modest circumstances.

    The honest closure that came and the love we still felt for each other was very evident. I am having dinner with two classmates this Wednesday. I have not achieved so much that I do not still feel a close bond to those people. I would still go the extra mile for them.

    So is a class reunion a good thing? Maybe not always but in my case the answer is a resounding "yes". I feel very blessed. I found what I was looking for...friends for life.

    Thinking of you.

    Barbara

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    1. As my comment to Donna noted I am genuinely surprised at the number of stories like yours that shine such a positive light on the subject. You know I couldn't be happier for you and the classmates you connected with again.

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  17. Bob.

    As you know I went to my 53 class reunion this summer. It was not a reunion that had been planned for months but instead happened in a very informal way. I graduated with 17 in 1959. Up until this summer I, like you, had disdained the whole thing. But the time seemed to be right for some reason and we gathered together in the home of a classmate that did not think we had valued him.I have regained a very good friend in him.

    I found that we all needed some closure and maybe insight into our personalities. It was a wonderful thing and we will remain in contact now for the remaining years. I have come to realize that those people were and have always been like my family. I cared for them deeply but did not face that fact because I felt responsible for what I could not change. It was a great comfort for us all to see that we had survived.

    One classmate asked me what surprised me. All I could think was "oh my gosh...we still have so much to talk about. We did not have to explain ourselves because we shared a commonality that was hard to explain." It seems that no matter how much changes some things will always be the same.

    Be well. Thinking of you.

    b

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    1. I know part of this is the same as the comment you left a few minutes earlier, but you did add some additional thoughts and insights here so I thought I'd let them both stand as is.

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  18. My 50th reunion was this month and I didn't attend. No connections, no reason, no desire. My best friends from middle school: one went to a different HS, another dropped out and joined the AF, and a third was in a different grade. If I had lived two blocks in another direction I would have gone to a different HS with most of the kids from my middle school.

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    1. Location, location, location. Sometimes it is amazing how much our lives are affected by simple things, like where the school boundaries are drawn.

      I missed being buses to high school by two blocks. The limit was one mile and I was thisclose.

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  19. Since the town I went to high school in is only 30 minutes away, I've been to every reunion. I just attended my 30th a few weekends ago. I'm still very close to a few of my high school friends, and now also to their spouses. A few of us attended the reunion together. We could have done that on our own, but it provided a great excuse to get together.

    Two reasons I'm glad I went. First, I am friends with many of these folks on Facebook, which I found to help a lot. We didn't need to do that "what do you do, where do you live, how many kids do you have" chit-chat. I already know all that. One friend posted wonderful photos of her family's trip to Italy and Turkey, so I got to hear more in-depth about that trip. Then we got together for dinner and a show when I was up in Seattle the following weekend to catch up even more. The catching up with folks was actually improved by Facebook, since I had a lot of context already.

    The second reason I'm glad I went, is that I wanted to give a great big hug to the gal that was my best friend from the fourth grade into high school. We are friends on Facebook now, so I get to see her beautiful family and see generally what's going on them. But there's no substitute for getting to hug her and tell her in person what a special place in my heart she still holds today, what fond memories I have of our friendship, and how grateful I am to get to look back on that time so fondly.

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    1. Hi, stranger! You have been so busy traveling the world I haven't heard from you in awhile.

      Another strong support for reunions. Your situation sounds perfect for keeping old friendships alive.

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    2. I have! First New York, then LA, then Seattle, and just back from Yosemite. Now maybe some time for blogging!

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  20. I think that social extroverted people love reunions just like they love any big to-do. Introverts like me tend to avoid them...altho when forced to go might have a good time. The organizers of these events are usually the former cheerleaders, class presidents, football players, etc...High school was when they were in their glory. Some of us didn't shine quite so bright and don't need to relive it. I was a good student, had friends, went to dances, but was shy and reserved in general. I haven't gone to any of my reunions.

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    1. Even though I spent many years on the radio and blog quite publicly I am basically an introvert. I have no problem making small talk at social functions and don't shy away from people, but if given the choice I'd be alone or with my wife.

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    2. Jane, I could have written your comment to the letter. My 50th is this year. I have no desire to attend.

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  21. I never went to one, even when I lived in the same city as my high school, until a few years ago when I went to the 40th. I went because one of the two people I'm still in contact with from high school urged me to go. So we both went, and I have to say I was glad I did. But once was enough.

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    1. Was it your happy place?

      Another positive checkmark for a reunion experience. Thanks, Galen.

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    2. Ha--no, it was not my happy place. But it did give me the opportunity to apologize to my high school boyfriend for the shabby way I broke up with him! And I was glad to see a few folks, and a few folks seemed glad to see me. High school was not a happy time for me, so a trip down memory lane was a mixed bag, but I really was glad I went...once.

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  22. Regarding Hammondartrbiz and Qwkdrw 's experiences . . . I went to B's 40th h. s. reunion, and I thought it was a hoot! All the fun, without any of the pressure. Plus. it was interesting to actually meet a few of those people as adults that she talked about as kids.

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    1. A brave man...going to a reunion that is not your own. Of course, as you note there is no pressure except for "B" explaining why she picked you!:)

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  23. Steve in Los AngelesWed Oct 24, 12:09:00 AM MST

    Bob,
    I have been to ALL of my reunions (5-year in 1979, 10-year in 1984, 20-year in 1994, and 30-year in 2004). My 40-year reunion is about two years from now. I was active in school and class activities during my junior and senior years of high school. I also live fairly close (about six miles away) from the high school I attended. I do want to continue to attend all of the reunions as long as my class continues to have them as the reunions eventually will come to an end as people will not have the energy, eventually will begin to suffer from the health effects caused by advancing age, and eventually will pass away.

    There is no way "Facebook" could replace an actual live, in-person reunion! I attended these reunions, because I genuinely wanted to see how my former classmates were doing. I also use the reunions as time lines to see how I am doing in my own life.

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    1. You are lucky that you live as close as you do. For those of us hundreds or thousands of miles away Facebook is about the only economically sensible way to stay in touch.

      I'm curious: how big was your class and how many still attend the reunions?

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    2. Steve in Los AngelesSun Oct 28, 04:21:00 AM MST

      I hope you read this answer as I am not writing my reply until early Sunday morning. There were about 760 people in my class. I estimate that about 100 people still attend the reunions. Many of my former classmates still live at least somewhat close by. My high school is in a suburb of Los Angeles. Consequently, many people still live in the Greater Los Angeles area and in other parts of California.

      Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of my current close friends, all of whom went to other high schools, have lived in the Los Angeles area their entire lives just as I have.

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    3. I would guess still having about 15% of the class show up for reunions after all those years is a good percentage. People are moving less than they used to but cities like Phoenix still have a big turnover. L.A. must be much more stable.

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  24. I've been to a couple of reunions. I went to a very small Catholic girls' boarding school. There were only 44 people in my class so we all knew each other well.

    That said, the 20th reunion was awful. Only three other people showed up. One drank the whole bottle of wine at the table and fell asleep. One kept saying "I don't know what all this women's lib stuff is about. I love shining my husband's shoes and being submissive." And the other tried to sell me liability insurance.

    Last year, I went to the 50th reunion of the class two years ahead of me because a lot of friends were in that class -- but none of them showed up. It was seriously dreary. I will be going to my own 50th reunion next April because I've heard from some classmates I liked very much who will be attending. So it's worth a try.

    As a warm-up, I attended my 45th college reunion at Northwestern last weekend. My real reason for going was to spend time with one of my dearest friends and classmates who is going through a difficult time in his life. The reunion was fun because we were experiencing it together (and having a good time dissing some of the more outrageous aspects) and because we bailed out of the second day and just spent it enjoying time together.

    I love getting together with long-time friends, a few from high school, some from college, but overall, am not a major fan of reunions.

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    1. You are a brave soul to have gone ahead with the college reunion after those horrible high school experiences. Getting together with friends is great, but a forced get together is risky, as you have found out!

      Thanks for sharing, Kathy.

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  25. I don't attend high school reunions because for me, for the most part, if we went to high school and I have absolutely no contact with you now, I'm like totally OK with that.

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    1. I agree. I would have known virtually no one at mine.

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  26. Hmm, I thought I was the only one who didn't like high school reunions! I went to my 10th MANY years ago. Hubby hated it - he didn't know anyone. I was shocked to find that the people who I was sure would be there were no-shows. The crowd was mostly made up of people who basically did nothing in high school, barely showed up for classes, married a classmate the day after graduation, and went on to have a zillion kids. Not my style. I put myself through college, married a great guy, had two wonderful kids (now adults), landed a great job, and finished a graduate degree while working and raising a family. I found that I had nothing in common with the attendees. After that, I ignored the invitations. As the saying goes, "you really can't go back." I found that I didn't really want to. And I'm really cautious about accepting Facebook friend invitations...

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    1. My high school is 2,000 miles away...too far to travel to meet people I wouldn't remember. High school was a good time for me but I don't need to revisit something that happened almost 50 years ago.

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