We love to hate class reunions and hate to love them. First of all, they are not a true cross section of the class because only people who did well in life show up–a concept called “survivorship bias” in science. Where are the people who failed economically, professionally, socially, romantically and bodily? They don’t show up! And that’s not counting the people who really can’t show up because they are listed in the In Memoriam section of class handbook. “Those no longer with us” are a wakeup call to how old we are that no one wants to think about.
Then there’s name tags. Without them you wouldn’t remember anyone. Not just because there was nothing memorable about them (which they can also say about you) but who has the same waistline or hairline or chin line? With women, the same last name?
If you do remember something about someone it is usually something you wouldn’t bring up. As in, “Weren’t you caught cheating on a Mr. Hansen’s math class?” Or, “Didn’t you brother go to reform school?”
Many at the class reunion seem to have done so well financially, including sending their children to college, that they are on second, soul-nourishing careers like crafts and fiber art, teaching yoga, giving pet training classes and “life coaching.” Many have become “their own brands,” as the books counsel. That leaves those of us still trying to make Group Vice President or Assistant Night Manager defensive.
And speaking of defensive, all the talk about stellar kids who went to Ivy League colleges and eased into prestigious careers also make those of us who never had children, or never had brag-worthy children, defensive. What are we going to say? “My eldest is out of his second rehab?”
Of course, many in the student body have remained the same. The folksingers are still humming and strumming (and the same songs), the theater types are still manic showoffs; the guy who ran Cross Country is running marathons; the activists have formed PACs, the environmentalists are now ecowarriors; the chess whiz is still self-effacing behind horn rimmed glasses; the French whiz is living overseas; the goths are still staggering under the weight of cosmic depression.
But there are some surprises. Many who were hotties in high school have succumbed to middle-aged bloat while others who were nondescript somehow have attained late-age glamour or charisma. And how about the career success stories? The guy who sat next to you in history who is now a neurosurgeon? The dweeb from chem lab who’s now a Hollywood producer. (How come he’s not handing out his business cards like everyone else is?)
Of course it is possible that your classmates’ success stories and those about their kids are embellished or even fabricated for our edification. There is no way of knowing. After all, the only lie you can’t get away with at a class reunion is about how old you are.
Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.