Ana Veciana-Suarez

High school reunions: the moment for vindication and affirmation

Bradenton Herald

Perhaps it’s a sign of maturity that, for a recent high school reunion, I worried not about the extent of my wrinkles or the number of pounds I may have added since the last event. No, nothing so banal. My concern revolved around one factor that would’ve never mattered forty years ago:

Could I manage to stay awake long enough to enjoy all of the festivities?

I could. I did. Had a blast and surprised myself, too.

“Party animal, momma,’’ one of my sons teased.

(Except for emergencies, my family knows not to call me after 10 p.m. OK, that’s a stretch. Make that 9:30.)

A funny thing happens to us when given the opportunity to travel back to adolescence. We get excited about seeing people we no longer recognize in pictures. In some ways it’s a chance to be 17 again, but with more money and confidence.

"I love my life and where I live," wrote a classmate who is now provost and interim president at the University of Washington, "but there's something special about connecting with people who knew you when you had acne."

Indeed, there’s something special about taking a dip — and nothing more — in a life that feels more fantasy (or nightmare) than reality. It’s like a cold, invigorating shower that refreshes us enough so we can continue with our staid routine.

Reunions are more than reunions, of course. They’re also vindication and affirmation. As expected, some classmates have gone on to stellar careers, but so many more have stunned us with their success. And that, in a manner, is the beauty of these occasions. They prove that life doesn’t keep us in a straightjacket. We make choices, we show grit, we cultivate hope. We overcome and become.

Truth is, in the long and convoluted stretch of a lifespan, high school registers as little more than a blip. A mere fraction of our existence. Forty-one years after we marched to Pomp and Circumstance — our 40th never got off the ground — we’ve already become who we are, sometimes even who we intended to be. And that is so liberating.

We sport gray hair or dyed tresses, if we have hair at all.

We lug around stubborn paunches and spreading midriffs.

We nurse sundry aches, some a result of hard living.

But we’re here, aren’t we?

By now we’ve also suffered catastrophic losses and debilitating disappointments, the bitter lesson of dreams deferred and dreams denied. Some classmates have died, others have overcome serious illnesses. A few have refused to return for any festivities. A handful have gone missing, a difficult accomplishment in this age of Facebook and LinkedIn.

But by and large, we’re here, aren’t we? Holding it together, thriving.

That, after all, is the difference between the first reunion and the umpteenth. In our 20s, we’re in the process of turning into someone; in our 30s and 40s we’re muddling through the overwhelming responsibility of family. Now fast approaching 60 — geez! how did that happen? — our priorities have not so much changed as evolved.

Who we were in high school is not necessarily who we are today. Not by a long shot. And those we wished to impress have been impressed — or not. Just as well, too, because that’s usually a futile endeavor.

Now we’re simply happy to enjoy the company of old friends and old acquaintances, people who were our first editors and colleagues, people who once shared books and lunches and ambitions, people who, as Ana Mari so aptly explained, knew us when we had acne.

Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.