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The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on high school reunions

This was not the greatest year to graduate from high school. Because of the pandemic, odds are you didn’t have a traditional graduation ceremony if you’re a member of the Class of 2020.

And if you’re a member of the Class of 2010, 2000, 1990, 1980, 1970 or 1960, you probably didn’t have a high school reunion, either. With the virus lurking everywhere, now is not the time for large gatherings, no matter how curious you are to see what happened to the homecoming king and queen.

This spring, reunion committees all over the Washington area had to decide whether their reunions would be postponed for a few months or canceled entirely. For the Class of 1960 from Georgetown’s Holy Trinity School, that meant rescheduling a 60th reunion from April to June, and then canceling it in the hope that classmates can gather in 2021.

“We’re in a wait-and-see mode now,” said Lucille Greer Maloney, one of 60 students who graduated from Holy Trinity in 1960.

“I want to see these people again,” Lucille said. But they want to be safe about it. And that means waiting until there’s a vaccine.

“We have enough trouble recognizing people without masks,” said Lucille, who lives in McLean, Va. “Put them on and it’s going to be a mess.”

With the classmates all pushing 80, there’s no guarantee people who would have attended this spring will be around to attend next year.

But perhaps it will spur some classmates to hold on. That happened with the 50th reunion, a decade ago.

“We had three people who made it to the reunion who died that summer,” Lucille said. “Somebody said they were holding on for the reunion. It was meaningful for them. And it was meaningful for us to see them.”

Julie Gerkens is among the organizers of Oakton High School’s Class of 1970 reunion. They canceled this year’s 50th and plan to have a “50 plus 1” reunion next year.

“First of all, people don’t want to fly,” said Julie, who lives in Fairfax, Va. “Secondly, if you get together in a room and everybody has masks on, it’s hard to tell who the people are if you haven’t seen them for 50 years.”

Organizers know there are risks.

“The longer you wait at this age, the more you have people that are sick or gone,” Julie said. “We’re hoping that next fall, things will be such that we can do something like this.”

Catherine Duff is one of more than 660 students who graduated in 1970 from Walter Johnson High in Bethesda, Md. They were supposed to reunite this fall. The pandemic put paid to that.

“We were so disappointed,” said Catherine, a retired teacher who lives in Bowie, Md.

They’re hoping to have a proper reunion next year, but in the interim they tried something different: On a recent Saturday afternoon, Catherine and 41 of her classmates attended a virtual cocktail hour over Zoom.

“It went really, really well,” Catherine said.

The organizers sent out a detailed program on how the event would work. A couple that dated in high school and are still married served as emcees. Attendees took turns giving a brief update on what they’d been up to since high school. The sound of a cow mooing meant your time was drawing near an end. A cowbell meant you were cut off.

The meeting had been set up so that after the introductions, groups of six could go into breakout rooms to chat. But the two and a half hours flew by so quickly, they never got to the breakout rooms.

Catherine sipped merlot while offering her update and listening to the others. The Zoom meeting had some advantages over an in-person reunion, where — like that uncomfortable moment in the cafeteria each day — you have to decide whom to sit with.

“At a dinner, you wouldn’t talk to some people,” Catherine said. “I would not have heard from all 41 of my classmates. So that was interesting.”

Some people were emotional on the chat. Yes, everyone was older and age brings perspective, but Catherine thinks the more reflective mood was brought on by the pandemic.

“Everybody has had enough time this spring and summer to reflect upon things in their lives,” she said. “People are a little more open to, ‘Was I the mean girl in high school? Was I the one who helped the kid who was being picked on?’ ”

Catherine said the Class of 1970 may reunite online again in January. And when they finally do meet in person, the Zoom reunion — with its clear images and names in the corner — will have had another benefit: “I won’t spend time saying, ‘Who is that guy?’ ”

Twitter: @johnkelly

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