High-school reunions are for winners.
For those attractive, energetic types who choreographed the pep rallies and got all the votes, the ultimate extracurricular of a decade later is one more chance to cash in on being a winner.
When I was asked to help organize my own high-school reunion, my thoughts turned quickly to the losers.
For the has-beens and never-have-beens a reunion can loom as threat; a wedding and a funeral the same day. Far from a light and sentimental journey, the encounter can trigger repressed conflicts. It can dredge up painful memories; and ignored hello in the hall, a spurned kiss while cheering the winning touchdown.
It can renew your desire for revenge.
As Ralph Keyes wrote in Is There Life After High School ? a reunion marks the one post-graduate occasion where it is possible for "innies" to bask in old triumphs while "outies" can show off new wares.
When we began last November to meet once a month to plan the Yorktown High School Class of 1971 Reunion, we were a random collection of housewives, paralegals, salesmen, public policy planners, junior bureaucrats and secretaries, representing several of our high-school cliques.
With no official sanction from the school, we had no guarantee that our efforts were not being duplicated by some rival commmittee across the street.
Attendance at meetings was irregular, discipline a problem. (Long-estranged classmates tend to giggle and gossip and split off in pairs to catch up.) Our unchaired meetings were frequently interrupted. Resolutions were made and later forgotten. You could receive a phone call announcing that a meeting had been postponed, only to be told an hour later to ignore the previous call.
When the Class of '71 was last united it was the era of hippie influences trickling down to the high school level. (An "alternative school" ws established in Arlington the year we graduated.)
Thus our reunion committee operated with an egalitarian spirit, intolerant of all authority bsed on bygone high-school status. The person with the most power was the person who typed the agenda.
Our class president joined late, having taken months to return our calls. We briefed him on our plans for the June get-together and he argued (futilely) for a date in the fall. Does a class president carry authority into life ?
To track down our class of more than 600 winners and losers, we had to scare up a 1970-71 student directory. By matching the directory with yearbook pictures, we culled out fellow seniors and produced a working roster of the Class of '71. (If you were too aloof in high school to list your name, you are probably paying for it now.)
Phone work to confirm current addresses was drudgery, punctuated by encounters like:
"You weren't so nice to my daughter. She winces when we say your name."
"Last we heard he was out West with some cult. . ."
We waded through conflicting data. A neighbor who knew Keen said he now lives in Marlow Heights; a friend insisted he had become a German citizen. A former roommate heard Kenny had died.
Only half the phone numbers were good and rarely did classmates themselves answer. (If you are still answering your parents' phone 10 years after high school, your reunion committee will conclude that you are stagnated.)
Opinions on a reunion committee come chep, but the real test of commitment is the willingness of members to kick in operating capital. Several of us remembered the $800 our class had left over from various car-wash and paper-drive fund-raisers. Our law student member phoned the school and the retired principal.
"We have no record of any money," boomed the voice from the past. (Humiliation of being quashed yet again by that ancient symbol of authority.)
The invitation to a high-school reunion must make reassuring overtures to those who hide misgivings behind a facade of apathy or cynicism. You are asking them to trust you with their money; they have no guarantee you are not working on some fake reunion get-rich-quick scheme.
Our invitation cut right to the issue:
"Got a grudge to settle? Wonder who's married? Who's reproduced? Who's faded? Who's blossomed? Who's working? Who's somebody? Who's nobody? Who cares ?. . ."
Our list of promised emotions included the phrase "joy, embarrassment," which our typist misinterpreted as "job embarrassment," a status-conscious slip the committee decided it preferred.
After four months' work, we were ready to mail the invitations and attendance hit an all-time low. We had only half the class on our 3 x 5 cards. The novelty of working with old faces had worn thin. Committee members wre crabby and withdrawn (like many had been thoughout high school). Loyal troopers who hd performed the scutwork began resenting unappointed leaders who overrode them on such issues as the use of maiden names or whether yearbook pictures should serve as name tags at the dance.
We took a needed break. As weeks went by and the returns poured in, our spirits again lifted. In Florida, Idaho, Alaska, Wales, Falls Church, Alexandria, McLean, enthusiastic supporters had heard our appeal. They had bought our act. They were making travel arrangements. They were acknowledging our project as the official reunion of the Yorktown Class of '71.
The high-school switchboard crahed through with a stack of messages from lone classmates who had phoned or written inquiries about the reunion.
The 10-year biographies we asked everyone to submit revealed anguish and anticipation. Some read like resumes or Dewars ads. Others spoke of born-again conversions and unpublished novels.
With the help of radio ads and more sleuthing, the movement continued. Our list of "unreachables" dwindled. We had made enough money to recover our investments. The event was a go .
It was about this time that a committee member received an invitation, by mistake to the reunion of the Annandale High School Class of '71. It duplicated in every detail our own reunion plan from the hotel dance and cash bar to the deejay and picnic.
Like salmon struggling upstream, alumni around the Beltway -- indeed, across the nation -- were returning to seek their source, to confront that time when we were no longer children, but not yet adults.
For reunion committee members this brought a surge of growth. What we had been through was more than a nostalgic dance and picnic, it was a six-month odyssey involving risk, creativity and tremendous interpersonal skils. Reunion fever hd hit us before the main event occurred. It had brought out the winner in us all.
"If you're thinking about organizing a reunion, think twice," writes Ralph Keyes. "It is a demanding and thankless job. On the other hand, I would advise personnel managers to hire a successful reunion organizer for any job in the outfit.