A few weeks ago, I went to my “30-ish” year high school reunion. We were supposed to meet the year before, but couldn’t get it done. It happens.
I’m not really sure why I went. For me, the best part of high school was leaving. It’s not that I went to a bad school–far from it. Ours was (and is) the best in our county, and one of the best in the state (if not the nation). Nor were my classmates horrible kids: being a magnet school (before they were called such things), it drew the best and brightest. Nor was I picked on.
But I was a bit of a mess back then: antisocial, cynical beyond my years, sarcastic, and emotionally volatile. I was one of the “gifted and talented,” as the teachers referred to us, but I was a mediocre student, more interested in writing my short stories and novels, or playing Dungeons & Dragons with my buddies. Though I dressed like a “burnout,” in black concert shirts, ripped jeans and boots, I never did drugs or drank, nor did I indulge in what kids now days call “hooking up.” I was a toned-down amalgam of Bender and Brian from The Breakfast Club.
(I did say “toned-down,” right?)
I had some close friends, many acquaintances, and a handful of fantastic teachers who saw my potential and nurtured me. But I never felt like I belonged, and in watching my daughters go through high school, I realize that I have only myself to blame.
How so? I didn’t join clubs, didn’t try out for the tennis team (the only sport I excelled at), didn’t do theatre (even though I hung out with a/v tech kids), didn’t audition for band though I could muddle through some guitar. In fairness, I did contribute to the lit mag and the school newspaper, but the latter was because I was in the Journalism class, so it was for a grade.
No wonder I felt like an outcast: I never tried to fit in.
Graduation came, and I hardly looked back, eager to start a new life. The only one from my class that I stayed in touch with was my best friend, Pat. I went to my 10-year reunion for the same reason as I went to prom: just to say I had. And like prom, I didn’t enjoy it much. I still felt like an outsider.
So I skipped my 20th anniversary reunion, and I had intended to skip this one, too. I thought I would have little left in common with folks that I had only spent 4 of my 48 years.
But shortly before the registration deadline, I decided to take a chance. “Who knows: it could be fun, right?” I asked myself. The clincher was that Pat was going to DJ the event, and he always does a great job. I figured at the very least, I could hang with him and swill some adult beverages.
Am I glad I went!
I walked in, and people recognized me right away–and they welcomed me. To them, I wasn’t Bender + Brian: I was just Kenton, someone they had known, and would like to get to know more of. Where had I gone to college? What had I studied? Was I married? Kids? What did I do for a living? And what was this they had heard about Pat and I writing a book?
And they weren’t the kids I remembered: they were different, too, and I found myself wanting to know all about them. So yes, while I hung out with Pat, I also hung out with Cindy S. and Cindy B., as well as Greg and Kathy and John. I got to talk to Jenna and Mike and Larry and Andre and Chevell and Nitin and Janet and Heather. We drank, we danced, we ate, we mingled and partied–and I loved every minute of it.
The reunion itself was four hours, and a group of us spent another hour and change in the bar at the hotel next door, but it wasn’t nearly enough time. Those of us who still live in the Washington, DC area plan to get together more often, in smaller settings, maybe even monthly.
If you’re in high school, it might be hard to imagine wanting to have anything to do with it once you leave–certainly I thought that way, and so does my 16-year-old (who’s going into her junior year and is already itching for college). Likewise if you graduated a few years ago or even longer.
But it’s not nostalgia that’s fueling the happiness I feel: it’s connecting. I finally feel like I belong. I have found a bunch of old friends. And now everything’s new.
Kenton Kilgore is forging a new direction in young adult science-fiction and fantasy. He is the author of Dragontamer’s Daughters, based on Navajo culture and belief. Kenton also wrote Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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