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Old Friends and Familiar Strangers

By John Kelly
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; Page C11

Okay, all of you eager-beaver high school students out there, all of you honor roll types with political aspirations who want to "make a difference" by running for SGA president, consider this: If you are successful, you will never be able to leave high school behind. Ever.

Of course, all of us carry some high school around: the memory of a particularly embarrassing incident, or an inspiring one. Or maybe we occasionally employ those years as a metaphor when we encounter some ridiculous bit of office intrigue or petty gamesmanship: This is so high school.

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Then I think of my classmate Mindy Weinstein, the very able president of Rockville High School's Class of 1980. When the votes were counted and sweet victory was hers, did she think that every five years for the rest of her life she'd be responsible for planning our high school reunion?

"I'm sure I did not," Mindy told me. "You don't realize that at the time."

She knows it now, and along with members of the reunion committee, she's deep into planning for our 25th reunion.

Why do we care? Why do we go back to a place that we spent so long trying to get out of?

"I think people care because you're reliving life from a time that was less complicated, you had less responsibility and things were carefree," said KathleenTourtellotte (W.T. Woodson '83), who runs the reunion planning company Capital Reunions with her friend Shelly Modes (Oakton '83). "Some go back for other reasons, like 'Look at me now' reasons. . . . A lot of people want to see old friends."

And some people don't: "Some people will absolutely not come," Kathleen said. "They say, 'Take my name off your list. I've got no desire to relive anything from high school at all.' "

Meredith Mason of Great Reunions said romances are sometimes rekindled at high school reunions -- or just plain kindled. Other times, she said, "You see some people who go to the reunion and go, 'Wow I'm glad he did dump me when he did' or 'I'm glad we broke up because she doesn't look as good now.' "

Kathleen Tourtellotte said that at nearly every reunion she's planned, there's at least one person who doesn't know anybody. At one reunion, a woman had taken a two-day Greyhound bus ride from Utah.

"She showed up wearing a tiara, and nobody knew who she was. They were coming to us saying she'd crashed the party, and we'd say, 'No, she's a member of your class.' It was almost like high school; nobody was talking to her."

Then there's something that many professional reunion planners have experienced: being mistaken for a classmate.

"All the time," said Nancy Shirey of A+ Reunion in Ellicott City. "Even at these 30-year reunions or older, people ask, 'Do I know you? Did we go to school together?' " (For the record, Nancy graduated from Fort Hill High in Western Maryland in 1981.)

Those name tags with photos from the yearbook help, most of the time. "Many people think that's very funny," Kathleen said. "Others get very angry and they tear them up then and there. They don't want to see their picture."

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