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What I learned at my 50th class reunion

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

Recently I attended my high school reunion, celebrating 50 years since graduating. Ours was the first class to go through high school in the newly constructed building, bringing together three towns that had been rivals in years prior. Centralization of schools in the 1950s meant elimination of a few still-operating one-room schoolhouses and grouping together resources for a more efficient operation.

Part of the weekend involved a tour of the school, which hadn’t changed much. In fact, I thought it had held up remarkably well, not showing its age. It still looked crisp, clean and commanding. Over the years, they’d added a swimming pool and constructed a middle school on the same campus, which had formerly been farmland in a rural part of New York State about 75 miles north of New York City.

Of a class of 215, supposedly 212 graduated. Roughly one-third continued to live locally; one-third moved elsewhere in the state; and one-third relocated out of state. Of the 25% who showed up at the 50-year reunion, the same distribution held true.  Astoundingly, we lost no one in the Vietnam War, but 10% had died of other causes.

Leading up to the trip East, I was surprised at how many of my Colorado friends and acquaintances said they’d never attended a reunion and never kept in touch with any classmates. That surprised me!  In most cases, they came from large graduating classes.  But in one case, it was because she no longer spoke the same language; after splitting from the Mormon church, it left little to talk about.

I learned that not everyone enjoyed his or her formative years. Let’s face it, most of us felt awkward back then, some people moreso than others. Although I did well in school and rarely stayed home when sick, I can’t say I “loved” high school. My friend Susan and I agreed that, while living in a rural area, going to school meant having contact with people – and that was good.

Reading messages written in yearbooks reminded me that I skipped school occasionally – usually to take in a Broadway play in New York City; Wednesday matinees were closer to being affordable. I apparently talked a friend or two into taking the bus into the city with me, something pretty foreign to do back then.

Not everyone liked school, even the most popular and those who scored the best grades. I was surprised to learn that even our studious Valedictorian didn’t like school. After retiring as a pediatrician, she decided to do what she hadn’t done as a teen in the sixties – she’s supposedly moved to a commune in Vermont and is raising chickens.

So much to learn at a class reunion…. Here are some things I hadn’t known, tidbits perhaps you can relate to: Betty lost her home in Super Storm Sandy; star athlete Charlie lived with other students his senior year because of an alcoholic father; Gail had just inherited her father’s house, saying it’s the first thing she’s ever owned besides a car; Henry, a National Merit Scholar, made a career playing craps; Sandy’s father was the local leader of the KKK; and my friend Mark had a cross burned in his front yard the year he and his Jewish family moved to town.

Mark was one of three invited to participate in a golf tournament at the prestigious Powelton Club his senior year but received a phone call the day before saying he couldn’t be included, as Jews were not allowed at the club.

While attending high school, I was unaware of bigotry and prejudice.  In my mind only a few kids participated in bullying or fights (all boys), and they were dealt with promptly.  Our environment was essentially wholesome and healthy.  I'm grateful for the opportunities presented and the people who influenced me as well as those who turned out for this reunion.

I realized that some people avoid class reunions because of not wanting to see former boyfriends/girlfriends – or former wives/husbands. On the other hand, some show up specifically in search of old flames. (One even showed up at his spouse’s class reunion to enjoy the company of her friends shortly after his wife died.)

This class reunion confirmed what I’d noticed some time ago:

  • The lives of many of the most popular people in high school peaked then.
  • Many of the quiet, shy and most awkward people in high school blossomed into well-rounded individuals.
  • Beauty queens looked just like the rest of us 50 years later.
  • Some who were dingbats then are still dingbats.
  • No one person should ever control everything. When the leader of the reunion effort died, no one could access her computer to come up with a mailing list.  And the committee didn't learn until two weeks before the reunion that she'd contracted with another establishment to hold the event.

What else did I learn? I learned that some people confess to the strangest things that happened while students many decades earlier. I learned that, indeed, one CAN pick up a conversation right where it left off 50 years ago with the right person.  And I learned that not everyone likes to talk. Loud music saves them from having to do so.

And I reaffirmed how much I like Evergreen, Colorado.