I was just at my high school reunion, and despite initial doubts, I had a great time. And it made me wonder why. These are people I haven’t seen in a long time (in some cases, for decades!). How is it we could reconnect so easily and generate powerful emotions?
I don’t have any obvious answers. Now, you have to understand that this was a subset of the whole class. My graduating class was around 900 folks, give or take, and only around 200 or so were at this event, so it’s a non-representative sample. So we had friends who brought in friends, and it consequently followed a small bit of ‘degrees of separation‘, so there was likely to be greater affinity.
Second, despite being a ‘suburb’ of a major metropolitan center, my hometown has a real ‘small-town’ feel, as we’re geographically isolated and had a more focused employment situation (we were a harbor town). And we were relatively ethnically diverse, lower on the socio-economic status (this was not Beverly Hills), and consequently shared some ‘scrappy underdog’ spirit.
So what was it like? Not just in my opinion, but in most accounts it was a great event! People were hugging, laughing, dancing, and more. There was sharing, and celebration or commiseration, of life’s travails. People reconnected with friends that they’d lost contact with, and strengthened ties with those who had been less tight. We also shared thoughts for those who couldn’t join for pragmatic reasons, and memorialized those who were no longer with us.
Interestingly, this was largely organized through Facebook, which despite it’s not intended use as an organizing tool, sufficed to allow us to reconnect before the event through posts to the group. People who couldn’t come shared thoughts, others talked about their experiences. There was a lot of preparation. And perhaps because it was this select group, the sharing was very positive. And the effort to organize was volunteer; and the individuals doing it in that spirit set a tone for the rest of the event.
I wonder, though, if one of the main reasons this worked so well as the strength of the emotional connections. The teen age years are some of the first emotional connections you make with friends, and some of these friendships had been established earlier (e.g. the two friends I’d reconnected with had become 3 musketeers in Jr High, and I’d known once since kindergarten). The additional emotional aspects of puberty on emotions likely only heightened it.
We’d also shared the ups and downs of high school together, and as in other cases the relationships take advantage of the strengths of shared experiences. We’d survived the high school experience together, and had ties through sports, clubs, or events that tightened the connections.
It’s not clear to me that this is really replicable, though I have long advocated that there are reasons to address the emotional components of events such as learning. Helping find shared ground, and working together to achieve goals, are both elements of team building, and we should look to them when we can. And positive spirits shown and reflected help.
High school is a tough time: bodily changes, finding one’s self, tough decisions, and more. I suspect most of us, at least those of us with sufficient empathy to care, struggle to navigate the desire to be oneself and to be accepted. It’s not an easy journey. The ability to successfully navigate it, and to have found others who help and share the journey, creates lifelong bonds.
A true friend, to me, is one who you can not see for years or even decades, and when you’re together again it’s like no time has passed in your ability communicate with authenticity and, yes, passion. I hope that you have or can find, if not at a reunion then somewhere, that true connection.