Wednesday, June 9, 2010

25th High School Reunion in NYC

I thought I’d matured, but I felt a familiar wave of insecurity going back to school. It all came back: the cliques, the gossip and the physical scrutiny. A reunion could be a living nightmare. Who really wants to return to high school?

I spent my formative years at an artsy, academically intense private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I loved Dalton, but it was tough. The class of ‘85 was assigned the library, and did I ever want to escape into a book, just like I used to. Instead I made the rounds and talked to almost everybody. It was especially nice to thank some of my former teachers. I had an excellent education.

About 40% of our class of 100 had returned and several of us had been in school together for 15 years. Everyone remembered me, but there were some I had difficulty recognizing. Time had changed men more than women physically, but the group dynamics hadn’t shifted.

The good news is most people get nicer over time. A girl who had tormented me in middle school recently sent an apologetic email, anticipating our reunion.  Worst experience: the woman who took out her BlackBerry as soon as I approached her “cool” clique. I laughed it off. Everyone else was friendly and eager to catch up.

I was still the oddball bohemian, but that was okay. I was lucky to have a group of friends who appreciated my differences back in high school. We are still close today. What touched me was how supportive everyone else was about my writing, even though I’m not published yet. People were eager to read my novels and hear about life in Maine. Most were still in NYC or in other big cities, working in business, law, real estate etc. Best gossip: two divorced classmates had hooked up.

The after party was at the Wright Bar in the Guggenheim Museum. Revisiting high school was easier with a drink in hand, and I’m not much of a drinker.

What did I learn? The people who seemed happiest in high school seemed the least satisfied with adulthood. Conformity is only a teen survival skill. Fulfillment comes from searching inside for your own creative spark. A good school, like mine, provides a broad choice of matches.

As for the painful experiences, they make great material. That’s the best thing about being a writer. The main reason I write young adult fiction (as well as adult fiction) is that the teen years made me who I am today. I write the books I would have wanted to read back then. High school has pigeonholes, but birds can fly. My advice to teens: open your wings.

28 comments:

Les said...

You offer fantastic insight and advice, to people of all ages. I am glad your wings are fully functional- use them often.

David Cranmer said...

Glad to hear you had a great time and thanks for sharing... I've passed up all mine thus far but may make an appearance at the 50th.

A Cuban In London said...

What a fantastic post. Like you, I look back on those years I spent in college (as they call it in the UK) as formative years for everything that happened afterwards in my life.

I recently joined Facebook and the only reason was to reconnect with old classmates from uni (we call our group ISPLE 1989-1994 after the years we spent at tha university). It's amazing the array of anecdotes and stories that one digs out.

I chuckled a little bit at this comment: 'Conformity is only a teen survival skill'. At the beginning, maybe. But once your inner-rebel kicks in, parents beware! It's nihilism all the way from there onwards. :-)

Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Edith Hope said...

Dear Sarah, I have rather mixed feelings about the kind of reunion of which you write, possibly coming down on the side of believing that they are, at best, artificial and that had one really had much in common at the time with those with whom one is being reunified, then the friendships would have endured. I strongly consider that people, like places, belong to particular periods of one's life and that revisiting the past may not always prove to be wise.

That said, I am delighted that you enjoyed the occasion and I have much enjoyed reading of your experience.

Bonnie said...

Beautifully expressed Sarah. Those events can be a little test of one's self-esteem - especially if you are aware of being scrutinized, judged and/or exluded.

Sounds like you were able to enjoy yourself in spite of the 'adolescents' in attendance.

Wonderful metaphor - to not allow ourselves to be pigeon-holed, to spread our wings, to fly above it all ... I hope teens out there soon find your encouragement waiting for them in their librairies!

tina said...

Perhaps it was a coincidence the woman took her blackberry out when you approached? Everyone is so wrapped up in their 'crackberries' now. Especially since everyone else was welcoming. I think folks get past high school and grow up-thank goodness! My husband and I attended his 20 year high school reunion last fall and it was so fun for us. Especially for me since I didn't know anyone but he really enjoyed catching up with everyone. I've never been to one of mine but I would if I lived close by and knew when they were.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

"the people who seemed happiest in high school seemed the least satisfied with adulthood."
So very true. I've noticed that at my own reunions.
And you are so right about conformity! To be avoided, at all costs!

Sarah Laurence said...

Les, I flew far to Maine and England too.

David, I saw a classmate’s mother there for her 50th.

ACIL, my school was what the Brits would call a private school, ages 3-18, although now it starts at age 5. You make a good point that teens challenge parents and social norms, but usually they do that in groups. By conformity I meant bending to peer pressure rather than acting as an individual.

Edith, I had mixed feeling too about going, but I’m glad I went. It was interesting to see how people turned out, even if they weren’t the types of people I’d choose as friends now. My best girl friends have lasted a lifetime. It was especially nice to reconnect with some of my guy friends, whom I hadn’t seen in years. As a writer of young adult fiction, it was useful to remember what it felt like to be a teen again.

Bonnie, so true about self-esteem. I’m much more self confident as an adult. It is my dream to see my books in libraries. Thanks!

Tina, it was easy to return to NYC since my family still lives there. You might be right about the BlackBerry. The fact that I took it personally shows how I regressed to my teen years. Then again this woman, and a few others, made no effort to step beyond her old clique.

Pamela, thanks for sharing your experience.

Alyson (New England Living) said...

Fascinating! I love the conclusions you came to. I have not, nor will I ever, go to my high school reunion. My teen years were definitely angst-ridden and I was constantly trying to find a way to runaway. I finally did my junior year - to England! Though, I must admit, facebook is like a high school reunion everyday. It's been bizarre to catch up with these people and see who has changed for the better and who has not. Oh, and I noticed how much more the men have changed versus the women too! I think it's because women having pretty much matured all that they are going to by the end of high school. The men still look like little boys at the end of senior years.

Cid said...

I also wrote about my 25th high school reunion with all it's ridiculous drama and regression. The writing helped me put it all in its proper perspective as you seem to have done as well. Glad you're safely back in Maine.

Elizabeth said...

So glad it went well!
Yes, my experience is that people do get nicer.
And yes, the cool sporty, popular people had been outshone later by the more quirky ones...
We had a reunion when we were all 50.
But now, at 60, I fear we would all look rather raddled and ancient.....
an achievement to still be on the planet at all!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I've never wanted to attend, but then I never had a long-term experience in a school. We moved a lot so I was always making new friends and leaving them. One thing I still recognize in myself is that I get tense as an adult whenever I walk onto a high school campus. Obviously, I'm still carrying some baggage I ought to toss. It's no wonder adults read and write YA, those experiences never really leave us.

Sarah Laurence said...

Alyson, I’m not on Facebook yet. That’s an interesting point about virtual reunions. I wonder what effect FB has had on reunion attendance.

Cid, I’m looking forward to reading your reunion post. It helped me come to terms with my feelings writing this post. I love how blogs both catalog life experiences and force you to reflect. It’s nice to get the feedback too and know you aren’t the only one feeling that way. It is good to be home.

Elizabeth, there is some comfort in seeing that everyone is aging together. Those who hadn’t had children looked younger and more rested, but kids are worth the wrinkles.

Tricia, that must have been hard moving around so much, but I bet you turned into an adaptable, outgoing person. I had the opposite experience. Something like 9 of us from Dalton went to the same college. A few of us were in school together for 17 years! It creates a strong connection almost like family. What I enjoy about writing and reading YA is that it allows me to reflect on those formative years. It makes me a more empathetic parent too.

Angie Muresan said...

My 20th reunion is coming up in a few weeks and I am looking forward to attending. I had a positive high school experience, perhaps because I went to a public school which wasn't very big and everyone knew each other. Or perhaps because conforming had been so ingrained within my mind from childhood on, that I molded myself to every situation and every group.

P.S. I am looking forward to reading your books too. Hope it is in the near future.

troutbirder said...

Very interesting and insightful Sarah. I must admit I enjoy class reunions must more as a former teacher than student. :)

Sarah Laurence said...

Angie, I’m looking forward to hearing about your reunion. Thanks for the encouragement on my novels – I had a productive writing day!

Troutbirder, how interesting it must be to view reunions from a double perspective.

lakeviewer said...

We do learn to accept who we are in those twentyfive years. You were lucky to have remained close to so many people.

Bee said...

My 25th reunion is going to be in a few weeks. I have been getting frequent updates on Facebook (I saw that comment!) about it. If I wasn't so far away, I might consider going . . . but it wouldn't be an unalloyed pleasure! I didn't like high school much; I felt like a fish out of water. Actually, a fish trying to swim upstream against the current would be a more apt metaphor.

I did go to my 10th reunion, though, and like you, I discovered that people were a lot nicer than I remembered them as being.

At least nothing is wasted when you are a writer!

Laura Cococcia said...

How wonderful Sarah - my 20th is coming soon...yikes! Interesting about how you mentioned how time affected more men (apperance wise) than women...I had the same impression at my 15th.

I hope you enjoyed being back in NYC - we've had such interesting weather here as of late!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Eeps! My 25th is next year, so I'm taking notes ;-D

Seriously, so glad you went and connected with old friends. And I think this is true: "The people who seemed happiest in high school seemed the least satisfied with adulthood."

And an after party at the Guggenheim sounds awesome. I'd go just for that!

Sarah Laurence said...

Lakeviewer, I am lucky to have remained pretty close to 6 girl friends from high school. Half of them made it to the reunion. Another friend moved back to Italy. I’m hoping to visit her next year. It was nice to see my guy friends at the reunion. There were others I hoped to see who didn’t make it sadly. Be sure to check out the book review in my post below – The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is set in Portland.

Bee, I missed American school reunions while I was living in England too. I think it’s worth going to one reunion just for closure and the relief that we’ve all moved on and matured. I like your fish swimming upstream metaphor. So true!

Laura, welcome back to my blog! It was fun being back in NYC, but my visit was too short. I got in late Thursday night and left on Saturday morning to go to bar mitzvah in PA. I squeezed in meeting an art client and catching up with family in my free time. I also couldn’t resist book shopping. It was way too hot, close to 90. I get spoiled by Maine summers.

JAPRA, we didn’t have free run of the museum sadly, but the bar/restaurant had a very cool design. Check out the link for photos in my post. It’s open to the public from a side entrance. I never noticed it before. I kind of sagged there since 10-12pm is past my normal bedtime and six hours of talking on my feet in pinchy dress shoes was tiring. Lame but true!

Booksnyc said...

"Conformity is only a teen survival skill. Fulfillment comes from searching inside for your own creative spark" - very well said and great advice for teens and adults alike.

Keri Mikulski said...

So true!!

Sounds like you had a great time. :) Thanks for sharing.

cynthia newberry martin said...

I enjoyed reading this post, Sarah. How fun that your class met in the library! Mostly what I think about when I think about high school is how at the time it seemed like my whole life and how so quickly afterward it took its rightful place as merely 4 years out of many. I wish I could have known that at the time--actually about a lot of things...

Sarah Laurence said...

Booksnyc and Keri, thank you!

Cynthia, good point about the relative importance of those years in a lifetime.

Barrie said...

Sarah, I'm glad you went and then blogged about the experience. thank you. "The people who seemed happiest in high school seemed the least satisfied with adulthood." Good. There is hope for me!! ;)

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, I remember reading about an author who (jokingly) cursed her parents for giving her a happy childhood.

Mama Shujaa said...

What a lovely sharing Sarah. And how fantastic that 40% reunited. Such a wonderful way to establish yet another spring board in life; the sub-community yardstick.

"Fulfillment comes from searching inside for your own creative spark." True words written by a truer artist.

Greetings from Lula Internet Cafe in Johannesburg, South Africa!

Mama Shujaa