In my experience there are three schools of thoughts when it comes to class reunions: There are those who wouldn’t miss theirs on a bet, those who wouldn’t attend one if their lives depended on it, and the rest of us, who find the prospect of reconnecting with our former classmates both intriguing and daunting.
I’ve always taken the approach that a class reunion will definitely be interesting, and it just might prove to be fun. I attended my (gulp) 40-year reunion a few weeks back, and, like the trio of 10-year gatherings that preceded it, it was not only less painful than I might have feared, it was downright enjoyable.
Skeptical? I understand. But hear me out: Following the reunion, I turned to my classmates on the Facebook page we’d used to organize the event and asked them for tips that might help those people who were hesitant to take the plunge to enjoy the experience, and I have to say, the class of ’76 came through with flying colors. Here are 10 indispensable tips for making the most of your next reunion, even if it happens to be your first.
1. If it’s the first time you’ve attended a reunion, whether you graduated ten years ago or thirty, make plans to go with a friend.
It helps to have someone you’re close to who can serve as “home base” as you try to overcome your nerves (almost everyone experiences a bit of nervousness at a reunion) and reach out to your former classmates.
2. Peruse your old yearbook before you go.
This tip grows more useful with every passing decade. If you’re just ten years removed from high school, chances are pretty good that you’ll recognize everyone at the reunion, but after forty years, I can tell you from first-hand experience, not all the faces you’ll encounter will be so familiar. And when you do recognize former classmates, you may briefly struggle to recall their names. A little time with your yearbook could a long way toward alleviating both problems.
It’s also a good idea to bring your yearbook along to the reunion. Your friends who are struggling with all those not-so-familiar faces and names will thank you as they sneak a quick peek at it.
3. Use Facebook to (re)connect with folks ahead of time.
Facebook and other social media outlets have really had an impact on the reunion experience. Ten years ago, at my 30-year reunion, I had very little idea what was going on in the lives of my classmates or, in some cases, how their appearance had changed.
But this time, I was familiar going in with the basic circumstances of many of my classmates’ lives and was able to quickly move beyond the typical catch-up chatter (and in some cases, to avoid asking awkward questions) and spend some quality time with them.
4. Be proactive.
Don’t sit at a table waiting for classmates to approach you. It’s perfectly normal to feel shy or be nervous—everyone goes through that—but try to push past it. Just find a familiar face or two and say hello. It won’t take long at all before those nerves dissipate.
5. Introduce yourself when greeting a classmate you’ve not seen in years.
Don’t put people on the spot by asking them if they remember you. They may recognize your face right away, but still experience momentary difficulty in recalling your name. That happens to most of us at one time or another, so simply state your name when saying hello. Believe me, your former classmates will appreciate it.
6. If you sometimes feel you don’t know what to say, ask others to tell you about their lives.
As you learn about the paths your classmates have followed through life, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll be inspired, and you’ll be reminded that everyone goes through good times and bad. It’s one thing we all have in common.
7. Look at everyone with new eyes and a forgiving heart.
If you encounter someone who hurt or offended you in high school, try to let bygones be bygones. Chances are, they don’t remember the incident and if they do, they are very likely now sorry for their behavior. Give everyone you encounter at the reunion a pass on the past and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how decent and kind most of your classmates have turned out to be.
8. Don’t compare your insides to anyone else’s outsides.
With each passing year, the social pressures of high school—the resentments, the rivalries, the unrequited affections—fade away, but many of us are still tempted to compare our lives with others’. You may encounter some people at your reunion who appear to be especially prosperous and happy, but we can’t always know someone else’s pain or troubles, past or present.
After a decade or more, it’s a good bet that every person in the room has experienced setbacks and heartbreak as well as good times, so be happy for those who appear to be doing well, sympathetic to those who might be struggling, and embrace your own journey, wherever it has led you.
And most of all, don’t worry about your weight, your hair (or lack thereof), your wrinkles, or what you’re wearing. Before you know it, you and your classmates will all feel as if you are back in high school and you won’t even know notice the changes the years have wrought.
9. Spend time with people you didn’t know very well back in the day.
This is one aspect of reunions that can be very rewarding, especially for those of us who went to larger schools. There were more than 450 people in my graduating class, for example; there’s no way I could have been close with them all.
At the past couple of reunions, though, I’ve had the chance to become better acquainted with some former classmates I was only casually acquainted with back in the day, and it has been a gift. Not only can you reconnect with old friends at your reunion, you just might make some new ones.
10. Don’t talk politics—focus instead on the memories.
This was especially good advice for me, as my recent reunion took place during this heated election season, but it’s a good policy for any such gathering. Who needs friction when old friends have convened to celebrate the bonds they share?
If you follow the above advice, I think you’ll find your reunion to be a positive experience, one that is not only interesting but rewarding and fun.
Our thanks go out to the members of Oklahoma City’s John Marshall High School, Class of 1976, who contributed their wisdom, experience and insights to this story.