Going back for more...
Classmates get classier as time goes on and bonds grow stronger with the passing of milestones
‘‘ I love having regular contact with my old school mates. It’s fascinating to see the twists and turns, sadness and joy of our lives over the decades.
MOST of us have attended or at least been invited to a school reunion at one point or another in our adult lives. While the prospect of a class reunion is exciting for some, for others it can arouse a range of emotions from disinterest to sheer terror. But for most of us, our first response to a class reunion is most likely to be curiosity. Does the prettiest girl at school still have it? Is the class dag still nerdy? Did the ugly duckling grow into a swan? And who went on to achieve great things since leaving school? And was it someone you expected who would be a winner in the game of life? School reunions also present a marker of time and for those who left school decades rather than years ago, the march of time can be confronting. When Vanessa Gorman approached the venue that was hosting the 30-year reunion of her all-girls class, she peered inside the windows and thought she was at the wrong function. “What I saw was a whole lot of middle aged women inside – and then with a shock, I saw my own reflection in the glass and realised I was in the right place!” Lucy Ashley also left school decades ago and says she never misses a class reunion. “Most of our class turn up for them, still – even though we graduated in 1976. We also have a really active Facebook page so we all keep in touch through that. I love having regular contact with my old schoolmates. It’s fascinating to see the twists and turns, sadness and joy of our lives over the decades.” And that’s the thing about class reunions, it’s possibly the only event you could attend where everyone is the same age, give or take a few months. There’s also a shared experience – childhood and adolescence. But for most of us, the emotional response to a class reunion is going to be a reflection of the emotional experience at school. “I had a happy school life and I was lucky to form really close friendships that still hold up today,” says Lisa Doust who attended Willyama High School in Broken Hill. “All of my female friends were sweet and kind and really good fun, and our male friends really looked out for us. “Our school reunions are incredibly happy events where everyone is thrilled just to be alive and to still have such strong and unbreakable connections. Because everyone was scattered far and wide after school, reunions provide the chance to reconnect and remember all the fun times and the heartbreaking events that united us for life.” Louise Heather has recently attended her 10th anniversary class reunion and also loved the experience. “My core group of friends is from high school and we’ve stayed very close so it was a good excuse to get together. But it was also great seeing some classmates that I hadn’t seen in a while. “While my experience of high school was great and I look back really fondly on those years, I also know school wasn’t a great experience for everyone,” says Heather. “I know that some of my old classmates didn’t really want to attend the reunion. They thought they had moved on in their lives and perhaps saw going to the reunion as taking
I noticed we were all so much more comfortable in our own skins. It was just wonderful to see each other and there was genuine connection
a step back.” For others, school reunions are something to be avoided at all costs – so painful are their memories. Nathan Dennersen, aged in his mid-40s, responded to the prospect of his class reunion with a definitive No. “I’d rather cut off my own head than attend a class reunion!” explains Nathan. “But that’s because I was tortured at an all-boys school and it was an awful time for me and something I’d prefer to forget.” And sadly, he is not alone. At my own recent school reunion, one of the organisers of the event told us that she received an email in reply to a reunion invitation from one of our old classmates. According to her reply, seeing any of her old classmates was the last thing she wanted. It was shocking and saddening to realise an old classmate felt that way. But looking back, this particular girl was always an outsider and appeared to be unhappy. But did some of the blame belong at her former classmates feet? Possibly, but I doubt we’ll never know. According to psychologist Mary C Lamia in a piece for Psychology Today, “It’s important to recognise that reunions are not at all about comparisons and judgments. Reunions are about reconnecting – and connection is what people really want and need. “But for some, reunions can evoke the emotional vulnerabilities you’ve buried from your adolescence,” explains Lamia. “The desire and longing to connect can be obscured by the feared judgment of others. And if you believe that everyone is judgmental, chances are you will be defensively throwing up your own barriers.” For Michelle O’Brien, school reunions are joyful events and a reflection of a happy childhood and a positive experience at the all-girls school she attended. “I’ve been to all the organised class reunions and have loved them all,” says O’Brien. “But I would have to say; they get more interesting as the years go by. The first reunion was all about who you were going out with and what you were doing for work, it was all pretty superficial stuff and I guess we were all showing off a bit.
“The next few reunions were all about your children and things like that, we were still essentially comparing our lives. But, by the 20-year reunion, most of us had encountered some loss or life-changing event. Many of us had divorced or lost a parent and sadly, some of our classmates had died. “And by the 30th reunion, I noticed we were all so much more comfortable in our own skins. It was just wonderful to see each other and there was genuine connection. All of us had been through some real ups and downs and some real life experiences that we could relate to. And those years and life experiences I think, made all of us that much more compassionate and supportive of each other.”
◗ Some people find high school reunions pleasurable while others would not dream of attending one.
LEFT: Louise Heather and Clare Walker at their 10-year school reunion. CENTRE: The Class of ’77, Kincoppal Rose Bay. RIGHT: Best friends forever classmates Sharon Sandy, Lisa Doust and Michelle Rowe.