50th Reunion


June 3, 2015 by Jean

class reunionI’m just home from a long weekend in southern New England, visiting family and friends and attending my 50th high school reunion.

My high school experience was a bit unusual because we were the first class in a brand new high school. When Bishop Feehan High School opened its doors in September 1961, it was to about 200 9th graders with only 6 teachers, Sisters of Mercy, who each taught six periods per day, were responsible for multiple subjects, and also took charge of various after-school activities. Although our classes were scheduled by ability groups, so that any individual ended up taking classes with the same subset of the class over and over again, homerooms were organized so that, by the time we graduated, everyone in the class had an opportunity to get to know one another. We were also bonded by the trials of beginning high school cramped into a few finished classrooms on an active construction site. So, despite the usual cliques and social categories of high school (I was what was then called “a brain,” before the term “nerd” came into common usage), our class was close.

The reunion committee, helped by staff from the high school, did a brilliant job of organizing this reunion, which had two parts. On Thursday evening, there was a ceremony, part of the high school’s 51st graduation, in which members of the first graduating class were presented with “golden diplomas.” We sat at the front of the auditorium, facing the graduates, and our part in the proceedings was short enough that it added some extra pomp and circumstance without feeling like we had stolen their special event. Friday featured a buffet lunch at a nearby country club, with lots of opportunity for informal socializing. This was a smart choice that made it possible for those who can’t drive after dark or who would be uncomfortable at a more formal dinner event to come. (I heard one friend tell a member of the reunion committee that he was recently widowed and wouldn’t have come to an evening dinner.)

The Friday buffet lunch was the main event, a chance to socialize with classmates. The extraverts and introverts sorted themselves out as they often do on such occasions, with the extraverts working the room, moving from group to group and trying to talk to everyone by the end of the day, while the introverts found a cluster of congenial friends for more sustained conversation. I was one of the introverts and enjoyed the chance to get caught up with an old friend whom I haven’t stayed in touch with over the years. I was also grateful to the extraverts who came by our table and gave me a chance to visit with them. The people I missed connecting with, of course, were other introverts that I wasn’t sitting with.

As I so often do at events like this, I brought my camera with me and then took only one picture (above). The fact is that I am uncomfortable taking pictures of people because I feel like I’m intruding. Maybe it’s time to just accept this about myself and leave my camera at home, where I can use it to my heart’s content to take pictures of plants (who never object to having their pictures taken).

Four of our teachers (two of them just out of college when they began teaching us) attended the Friday lunch and said a few words about the experience of teaching at a new school, where they were all stretched to take on responsibilities outside their expertise. It had never occurred to me in high school to consider how challenging their responsibilities were, how hard they were working, or how terrified they sometimes were; and it was interesting to hear about all this from the perspective of my own 40 years of teaching experience. One of the teachers present was a favorite of mine. (Well, actually, she was almost everyone’s favorite – the cool, beautiful, young teacher that many of us had a crush on.) I hadn’t seen her in more than 40 years, but I felt a deep sense of friendship and connection.

There were, inevitably, a few awkward moments. I upset one classmate whom I hadn’t seen in several decades by sharing a fond memory of her extraordinary singing talent only to find that it was a painful memory for her because illness had taken away her ability to sing. What struck me most, though, was how easy the interactions were. I found my classmates much more complex, interesting, kind and likeable people than they were fifty years ago. If anyone needed evidence that we had gotten better with age, this was it! As I talked with an old friend that I have been out of touch with for many years, we discovered that we have far more in common now than we did when we were younger (despite lots of superficial differences in our lives). I have struck up a friendship on Facebook with another classmate whom I barely knew when I was in school.

I know that people are often wary of reunions. They can reawaken old hurts and bring back painful memories, or one can look around and see what (and who) has been lost. None of that was true for me at this reunion. I felt enriched by reawakened memories, rekindled friendships, and new acquaintances, all reaffirming my sense that this is a special time of life.

4 thoughts on “50th Reunion

  1. Jean R. says:

    I’m glad you had such a great time! It sounds like the planning committee did an excellent job. People do change a lot in 50 years and you can relate to one another on a whole new level.

    I couldn’t go to my 50th in 2010 because the committee planned it on antique museum ship that wasn’t wheelchair friendly for my husband (and probably others who needed canes or walkers.) It was the ship we traveled on for our senior class trip and it would have been fun to see it again. I’m hoping to make it to the reunion that should take place this summer. But who knows. The planning committee has a history of planning off the wall stuff like formal affairs where tuxes and long ballgowns are required. All pricy stuff.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, The planning committee for this reunion did a great job! I remember deciding not to go to the 20th reunion because it was billed as a romantic moonlight cruise on Narragansett Bay. Going alone to something that was described as a “romantic” cruise and where if you were having a bad time, you couldn’t leave until the boat came back to shore was more risk than I was willing to take.

  2. I am glad to hear there are wonderful reunions, and yours was one of these….We had almost 900 students in our class. I attended the 10 yr reunion and I was one of 10 who had not been married, had kids or been divorced…that was enough for me.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I remember my 10th and 15th reunions as times when everyone seemed like they were trying to impress others with how successful they were (or maybe trying to convince themselves). I missed the 20th reunion, but by the 25th all that had dropped away and people were comfortable enough in their own lives to be more open to others. I think some people in my class who were turned off by early reunions and were convinced to come back to this one were glad they did. One of the consequences of an informal lunch event rather than a formal dinner is that the majority did not bring spouses with them.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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