Tuesday, August 23, 2011
High school reunions
There were reasons I had never gone to one. Mostly because I thought they would be shallow gatherings all oriented around something that ended __ number of years ago. I figured mostly they'd be for those who felt their high school years were their best and wanted to relive them however shallowly they could do it. I did understand they also are a time to reconnect with friends lost along the way. Maybe for some they also serve to assess-- did I do better than my classmates or worse? Sort of like yearly Christmas letters only enhanced.
His 50th has my praise for the organizers setting it in a lovely, wooded location on one of the farms of an alumni. It was also pretty inexpensive at $20 a person which might have included the gifts (more on that later) name tags, rental tables, and definitely included the meal which had been catered and frankly was blah to bad (the restaurant should not have wanted their name attached to it as I don't imagine many who ate it would want to eat there afterward-- something for restaurant caterers to consider).
The setting outdoors more or less made up for the food. I also liked how the organizers said because of donations, from other alumni, anybody who could not afford the $20 would be covered privately. The attendees who I met were very nice, polite, some funny, interesting in the different ways they have spent these 50 years. The men Farm Boss had known as friends back then probably would still be friends if he lived nearer to them today.
Now understand that for me, as an appendage there with no shared history with these alumni, I was there more as an observer. Up until the planned events, I stuck to asking people a few questions about themselves, giving Farm Boss the freedom to mingle but really I was kind of just 'there' for wont of a better word.
Then came the planned 'entertainment'. First came a little test that they had all supposedly filled out the answers to these questions which were minutia that only someone obsessed with high school would possibly remember. Farm Boss said he knew only one of the answers (name of the hangout next to their high school) and didn't bother filling it out. There was a prize for the person getting the most answers right but that didn't end up being many of them.
Then came a set of questions for prizes that were oriented toward who these people were today. As each one would come up, I'd think, nah, the organizers wouldn't really ask that and then they would. It did tweak my sense of humor-- to be able to laugh inside while maintaining a public decorum that was appropriate and didn't ridicule what other people needed to feel good about themselves where it hurts no one else.
Here's an example: Who still looks the most like they did in high school? Now is that a slam or a compliment? The question about who had most grandchildren seems innocuous unless you think how some cannot have children. Still by this age, they are probably used to those questions and let that roll off their backs. The answer was by the way 22. Seriously-- who has 22 grandchildren these days and how did they manage it? In addition that person already had two greats...
No surprise probably then that there was a question about who looked youngest. When five names had been called out (don't ask me how they were selected as it wasn't really looking youngest so far as I could tell-- but might be how cheerleaders used to be selected), as they stood there rather than stooping to an even lower level by voting for the very youngest, they let all five have a prize. (Yes, I think everybody does wonder at such an event about aging and how it shows up, but to bring it into the spotlight that just seemed wrong to me.)
Answering who still had the most hair probably only related to the men and it might have been won by the man who also had the youngest child (another question and bet nobody expected the answer to be nine years old-- not hard to see how that one happened).
And yeah, I gotta say, those questions were the total expectation I had had for people who wanted to travel back in time to the values they had had in high school. At least they didn't ask who looked oldest. Saner minds might have prevailed.
It's easy to make fun of that kind of planned entertainment except the persons organizing something like this cannot find it easy, and they probably were trying to make it fun for everybody. Putting it together does deserve praise as if it depended on someone like me (who could plan a big event and has but would not choose to for a high school reunion) nothing would happen.
Some to whom I chatted, when I asked, told me they had been to every reunion ever offered and by some I mean there were a sprinkling of partners like me who had come to offer support or maybe defend their ground, whoever knows why anybody comes to something like that. A fair number of graduates had come alone but that might relate more to the distance from which they had traveled like Switzerland and the cost of airfare.
I felt I would like three things about doing it and each was fulfilled. One-- sometimes you just need to go outside your comfort zone and a big gathering of people, who are coming together based on who they were as youths, has to be one of those for me. Two-- I felt that I would enjoy photographing it. Three-- I was interested in what a large gathering (over 70 returning alumni) of people mostly the age of 68 would look. Now that's the part that is most interesting to me on several levels, and after I got started thinking about it, I decided it deserved its own blog.