When Is a College Reunion Not a College Reunion?

5 Jun

brandeis_reunionSo, here’s the thing about college reunions. Mine, anyway.

Ten years out of school is a significant milestone. Which is probably why, at my 10-year reunion, there was great attendance — in addition to many members of our class, there were lots of spouses and kids in tow. And it very quickly turned into a disappointing, awfully superficial affair: Many people overdid it with the hyperbole (they had “the most wonderful husband” and “the best kids”) to show off how well they were doing, and made all kinds of excuses about why they hadn’t stayed in touch over the years. It was kind of like the old-fashioned cliché of reunions, complete with social anxiety and lots of one-upmanship. (Remember: This was in 2006, when most people weren’t using Facebook.)

Suffice it to say, as a single guy who was frustrated personally and professionally at the time, it really wasn’t my scene. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, there were folks there I didn’t care to see (like, ever), who I went out of my way to avoid. So I didn’t enjoy that reunion very much. No surprise. And I skipped my 15-year reunion altogether.

This weekend, at my 20-year college reunion (a fact I’m still trying to wrap my head around), it was a very different scene.

reunion badge

Apparently, I was young(er) once. (Photo credit: me)

Given my experience at the 10-year, I was a bit hesitant to attend. The school actually asked me if I wanted to be on the reunion committee. I laughed and politely declined.

Why should I go to the reunion? Visiting the campus isn’t such a big deal; I live nearby, and had actually stopped over there earlier this year, randomly, when I happened to be in Waltham.

Also, I’m connected with many of my classmates on Facebook — some on Twitter and Instagram too — so we already know what’s going on with each other’s lives. I’ve seen pictures of their spouses and kids, I know where they live and work, what they did last weekend and where whey went on their most recent vacation(s). We’re already in touch via the comments we leave on each other’s posts.

But that’s the thing. Against all modern-day conventional thought, being so connected with people on social media actually made me more interested in going.

It’s true. Thanks to social media, my classmates aren’t long-lost friends; they’re friends I engage with on an almost-daily basis. Actually, some are people I wasn’t even particularly tight with back in the day, but now they’re some of the most active members of my online community. These are people I “see” online all the time, and who I’d really like to see offline too.

So, as I started to notice familiar names showing up on the attendee list, I decided to register after all and go to the Saturday afternoon BBQ — and I actually looked forward to going.

And you know what? Being connected on social media really did make all the difference. Whereas 10 years ago we had to catch each other up on our lives, this year, for the most part, we already knew all about them. Instead of having to have multiple superficial conversations about work and families, and trying to sound all impressive about both — or faking interest in either or both — we were able to chat more thoughtfully because we were already interested.

In fact, this time around, it wasn’t all about spouses or kids. Sure, there were some kids there. But most of the people I talked with came solo and didn’t feel the need to show off pictures of their kids because there are already plenty of them on Facebook. (Actually, it was kinda fun to “meet” some of my friends’ kids in person after seeing posts about them over the years.)

To wit, when I asked one friend why he didn’t bring his kids, he replied, point-blank: “I didn’t want to bring them.”

Most significantly, 10 years after our 10-year reunion, we’re all very different people, at very different stages in our lives. And I don’t just mean the fact that some folks are now married with kids or have gotten divorced or moved across the country or changed careers. Nor is it because some people (like me, admittedly) have gained weight and others have lost it, some have less hair and some have hair that’s a whiter shade of grey.

I mean that there’s no longer a need to “compete” with anybody or be self-conscious about not following the same timeline. Thank God for growing up and gaining perspective. Speaking personally, I’m still single and probably not where I want to be professionally, but that didn’t really matter yesterday. (Though the fact that I’m a lot happier now than I was 10 years ago certainly did.)

louis brandeis

Louis Brandeis (Photo credit: me)

This all made my 20-year reunion this weekend a much better time than the 10-year one was. Hanging out with folks who had come from as far away as San Francisco or Washington, D.C., or London, or even just down the street in Newton, was a blast. It was cool to learn more about everybody’s lives now, and to hear more about their trips or the cool things I’d seen mentioned on Facebook or wherever. And, because there was a smaller group than last time, I was able to spend more time with certain people and not hear the same types of stories over and over.

No, not everybody there was an active sharer on social media, or someone I was connected with. But that was alright. I’m just saying it made for easier conversations with those who were.

All told, my 20-year reunion was a mostly low key, but very enjoyable time. (I think the beautiful weather and the fact that we weren’t stuck inside the gym like last time helped too.) In fact, I dare say that instead of a reunion, it felt more like a meetup — a casual gathering of friends, not people who felt like they had to catch up with and impress each other.

It’s not that a lot of us needed to be reunited, per se. We just needed an occasion and a place to get together offline.

Lots of pictures were taken, and we all knew we’d see them soon enough on Facebook. Multiple people even asked me if I’d be writing a blog post about the weekend, suggested I had to, and joked that they hoped it’d be more positive than the one I wrote about the 10-year reunion was. (Done and done.)

I even walked away with a potential date (friend of a friend), a possible professional collaboration opportunity, knowledge of friends who now live in the area who I hope to see again sometime soon, and yes, a handful of new Facebook friends. (No new umbrella, though.)

Oh, and I probably should also note: The brownies were still quite delicious. Maybe even better than they were at the 10-year reunion. Ha!

So, am I glad I went? Absolutely. Twenty years after graduation, all is well and I was glad that I could be a part of the festivities. I even found myself staying on campus way past the BBQ to wander around and chat with folks, and then going back at night for the class dinner.

Actually, word has it that the 25-year reunion will be an even bigger gathering, since it’s a more significant milestone for our class. One day after attending my 20-year reunion, I just have one question: Can I register for it now?

Will YOU be at the 25-year class reunion? Leave a comment below.

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4 Responses to “When Is a College Reunion Not a College Reunion?”

  1. bloggerenvy June 5, 2016 at 7:07 pm #

    Martin – I’m glad you had a good time. I think that is as much reflective of where you are in life as it is others. It’s nice to see you happy and having a good time. People are only as good as you let them be. And yes, ignoring those you don’t want to engage with is easier now we feel confident to say “let me just find someone else to talk to” rather than trying to make an excuse. I’m glad people got to see happy, party Marty. Good luck on that set up! I hope you find love too!

    • Martin Lieberman June 5, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

      Thanks, Ros! And actually, ha ha ha, it’s not “happy, party Marty.” Back in the day, they used to call me “Marty the one man Party.” Naturally, that nickname made an appearance this weekend. 🙂

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I’m 42, and I Have No Idea What That Really Means | Martin's Musings - June 7, 2016

    […] If there’s one thing I’ve gotten good at over these past 42 years, it’s doing just that. And over the course of my last lap around the trail of life, there was lots of good time to enjoy. There were trips to Colorado, Chicago, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Florida, and of course, New York. There were dates. There were good movies. There was lots of good music. We celebrated family milestones like my dad’s 70th birthday and my nephews’ 5th. I made some strong relationships even stronger (online and off). My employer was acquired. I ran (some of) my first 5K. And, most recently, I had a great time at my 20-year college reunion. […]

  2. After a Sucky 2016, I’m Ready to Work for a Better Year Ahead | Martin's Musings - December 30, 2016

    […] was a year in which I celebrated my 20th college reunion and actually enjoyed the experience of attending the […]

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