When Benjamin Franklin observed that nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes, he was leaving something out: the invitation to one’s high school reunion. There are those who consider all three with the same level of repugnance, but I’m not one of them. I was lucky enough to attend a great high school—Webster Groves High School, in the leafy western suburbs of St. Louis. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every class reunion—the last one saw me home at 2 a.m.—and I wouldn’t miss the next for anything.
Summertime, the season for class reunions, approaches. Most reunions are actually happening in person this year. If you are on the fence about attending yours, my advice is carpe that diem, baby. Sure, reunions can stir up a mixture of feelings—apprehension, insecurity, gleeful curiosity about what the ravages of time have done to the prom queen. But you should go for the chance to renew old friendships. You should go to have a good time with a roomful of people who have been on this earth exactly as many years as you. You should go for the same reason you finish a book or stay through a movie: to see how it all turned out. And you should go because you don’t want to look back later and regret not going.
Here are some tips for planning and attending your class reunion.
Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way
A dear friend is on the steering committee for her 40th high school reunion. She is ready to pitch it all in because every decision the committee makes is questioned and criticized by a Greek chorus of classmates who couldn’t be bothered to help but have lots of time to kvetch: The venue is too fancy. The invitation copy is too somber. Why cocktail attire and not casual? Why sit-down and not buffet?
Organizing a reunion is not easy. Thanks to social media and services like classmates.com, there is less grunt work than there used to be in pulling the event together. But there still are many tasks to complete and tricky decisions to be made. You can’t please everybody. If you don’t step up to help, don’t whine about things. And thank the organizers as often as possible.
Have a Strategy
Your reunion experience will be much more rewarding if you decide, before each event, whether you want to have a few meaningful conversations or work the room, because you can’t do both.
If you decide you want to do the latter, it’s important to have a graceful exit line so you don’t get stuck talking to the same person all night. Sometimes a simple “excuse me” or “it was great seeing you” will do.
Before the reunion, look through your yearbook and prioritize who you really want to talk to. Make a point of seeking out people who have made a difference in your life and thanking them. They will appreciate it more than you know.
Once a Geek…
Don’t presume that your classmates will be impressed by your many accomplishments since graduation, or that, since we’re all grown-ups now, the social hierarchy will be any different. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve won a Nobel Prize or just got out of prison, at your reunion you will revert to your same position on the high school totem pole. Accept this, use it to navigate, and you will have a good time.
No matter what your position, do not brush off anyone who wants to talk to you. All responses to questions should be at least two full sentences.
At a high school reunion, nothing is more essential than name tags. The best are emblazoned with the bearer’s senior yearbook photo. Perfect the technique of pretending to be focused on someone’s face while stretching your peripheral vision to see their nametag.
It’s Okay to Come Alone
There are people who don’t go to their class reunions simply because they don’t want to walk in alone. But plenty of people come solo to their class reunions, for all kinds of reasons. I brought my husband to St. Louis for my ten-year reunion, and he was so over it by nine o’clock he went back to my parents’ house and watched TV with them. Since then, I’ve left him in Kansas City when I attend high school reunions, an arrangement mutually agreeable to both of us. Reunions are hard for spouses, because let’s face it—nobody really wants to talk to the spouse, unless the spouse was also a member of the class.
I read somewhere about a high school reunion that provided blackjack tables at the back of the room for the spouses. A terrific idea if you can pull it off.
Work With What You’ve Got
Maybe you’ve gained weight or gone a little gray. So what? Pretty much everyone else will be preoccupied with how they look. Once you get there and start seeing old friends, catching up, sharing family pics and swapping cell phone numbers, you’ll find that your concern with looks will disappear.
Still, you want to look the best you can. Map out pre-event beauty treatments, shop early, get the hairstyle figured out weeks ahead and go the “less is more” route with fashion. Skip complicated looks, uncomfortable styles, or fussy prints. For a dressier nighttime event, you can’t go wrong with a little black dress, a chic evening bag, and shoes carefully selected for both looks and comfort. Tall heels should be broken in before the big night!
With the ubiquity of the camera phone, class reunions have become massive photo events. Get ready to photograph and be photographed. For the former, know that it’s best to get the shots early in the evening, while everyone is fresh. And remember never to tag anyone on social media without first getting their permission. And smile big!
How to be Photographed for Party Pix
Do these four simple things next time someone points a camera your way at an event. I promise you will look better in the photo. Just remember F.A.C.E.:
- Feet apart, at least 12 inches
- Arms elongated (which will make you
stand up straight)
- Chin out, away from chest
- Eyes slightly above camera lens
If it’s possible to put your drink down, do so, even if it’s only water. In today’s social media reality, photos are forever, and who knows where this one might end up?