Class reunions bring with them a sense of embarrassment, Rob Horwitz, former editor of Walt Whitman High School's student newpaper said, and the class of 1970 bore out his observation as it came together Saturday night to see what a decade had done to its members.
This student body was once the vanguard of the antiwar movement, and here were 300 former Bethesda calssmates swilling white wine and talking of condos.
A palpable tension filled the student union ballroom at the University of Maryland.
"Isn't this weird?" asked Vicki Berman Reff, a former pompon girl, now the mother of two.
"Yeah, it's so normal, replied Judy Mann, a car saleswoman who went to college in Paris.
Ten years ago, the school prom faced extinction; a counter-prom was held on the Washington Monument grounds. But Saturday members of the class of '70 came full circle, flying from as far away as Salt Lake City, Denver, Boston and New Orleans for the reunion. They wore nametags, passed snapshots of children and behaved like conventional grown-ups.
Judging by appearances, the cools, the nerds, the freaks and the cheerleaders are merged now. Overall, the class has put on weight, trimmed lots of hair and traded tatered cutoffs for gray flannels. Unlike high school days, few wore jeans and almost all the celebrants -- now in the 28-year-old range -- adhered strictly to the evening's "heel & tie" dress code. 2
An empty dance floor and a crush at the cash bar preceded the table-hopping sit-down dinner. The overbaked rock cornish hen and gelatin grasshopper pie were barely picked at but did draw wisecracks about the meal's $17 price.
"There are lots of still-single women, don't you think?" asked one Billy Joel look-alike, Yale Rodman, who is minding his family's Wisconsin Avenue drugstore.
"I was noticing how many are married and dragging spouses along," said Sherry Kinland, now an attorney in town.
Former Vikings peered discreetly at nametags when faces didn't register, and the sounds of Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour" and the Temps' "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" helped memories fall into place. At times, faces looked just as they did on graduation day in the school's famouns geodesic dome. Some members from the class of more than 700 warmly greeted people they had never met; others spent more time together at the reunion than they did through three years of high school. One unidentified man wore an Ace McGurkey nametag, in tribute to the fictional goon whose picture made the 1970 yearbook.
On the serious question of looks: The women agreed that other women seemed most improved since the Age of Aquarius, while the men appeared to be aging less gracefully. But Roger Lebbin, father of two, who was the marching band's star trumpet player, felt the opposite was true. In any case, one man came from out of nowhere to resemble a Blomingdale's model, while the basketball heroes somehow didn't seem so tall anymore.
Although the din of conversation blurred the welcoming remarks of reunion organizer Rick Johnston Neumann, the crowd honored a long moment of silence in memory of nine classmates now deceased. Then the group applauded those who organized the event.
The teachers who attended the reunion were big hits. Several are still plugging away at Whitman -- Richard Abell and Asby Bryson in history, Pat Winn in French, Carolyn Heckert Shawaker in sociology, Barri Bergman in English -- and while the first impulse was to greet them as "Mr.," "Mrs." ior "Miss," on second thought it had become obvious that the authorities were only a few years older than the graduates.
Oddly, a handful of classmates could pass for 40-year-olds -- men with bald spots, women with layers of makeup and perfectly coiffed hair. But then, some of them had seemed 30ish in homeroom 10 years ago. The chess, bridge and backgammon geniuses seemed to have changed least; one or two hippies remain true to the image.
According to one theory, the class of '70 was tormented more than most by late '60s radicalism. "We were late for the antiwar demonstrations when we got to college but were too early for the back-to-books high school years. We had dope and depression," said one alumnus, soon to be a plastic surgeon. There were sit-ins on the squad on one hand, "It's Academic" and the talent show on the other.
Seventy was the transition year.
Taking stock, Whitman produced a disproportionate number of lawyers and dental hygienists. Class president Keith Intrater became a seminary student with intense eyes. The lunatic fringe didn't RSVP for the dinner dance, but the class leaders of a decade ago showed up with their young professional suburban lifestyles. The resumes included two garbage collectors, one convict serving time for holding up a High's, and Hugh Wolff, little noticed in the class of '70 now assistant conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra.
Despite all the talk of the good old days, one classmate summed up, "Life begins after high school."