Reunion article


Times change: Class reunion brings dread
Star Tribune
Rochelle Olson, left, and her friend Lisa Middag share a drink at Le Bar at Sofitel in Bloomington on Aug. 23 to steel themselves for their class reunion.
When you've changed a lot since high school, why revisit people who remember your old awkward self?
Last update: September 4, 2009 - 5:04 PM
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Beautifully written story -- we can all relate!
Thanks to the Star Tribune for publishing this. Rochelle Olson is one of your top writers and once again rises to the top in painting the … read more picture of what all of us feel
Rochelle Olson
Star Tribune
I live 15 minutes from the suburban hotel that played host to the 25-year reunion for the Bloomington Kennedy High School class of 1984.
I had no excuse to stay home, but I didn't want to go. For weeks, the thought of returning to high school -- in any capacity -- had me feeling scared and sick to my stomach. The intensity of the anxiety signaled to me that I needed to deal with it. I talked to many adult friends in the weeks before the reunion. Most encouraged me to go.
I wasn't sure the advice was good, because I was not the same person in high school that I am now. I joke that I was the Unabomber back then, a sad recluse. Once I moved into my college dorm, I became overnight the independent, gregarious person I am now.
Revisiting the grim high school days wasn't something I yearned for. I feared a retraumatization. Then I realized that I could go back as the adult me -- the one who has a dog, a job, a house, loving friends and who as a reporter had gone toe-to-toe with the likes of governors and death-row inmates.
As insurance, I enlisted a classmate whom I had not seen in 25 years to meet me at a nearby bar. Lisa Middag and I had reconnected online recently. We weren't pals in high school, but found as adults that we had much in common. What we didn't share: anxiety over high school reunions. Among her many gifts, Lisa is blessed to be happy and secure in who she is.
After a warm-up martini (you didn't think I'd go stone-cold sober, did you?), we walked over to the reunion hotel and plunged into the utilitarian conference room that would be Ground Zero for the battle on my latent teen angst.
My initial reaction has been, I am certain, shared by anyone who has ever attended a reunion: I was in the wrong place; these people were too old to be my classmates.
But judging people on their looks, their clothes or their jobs wasn't the point. It was about connecting as an adult with peers who for better and worse journeyed by my side through adolescence. It was about communing with classmates who worked with me selling pop and hot dogs at the old Met Stadium and who had that same jerk of a teacher for ninth-grade phys ed. We were all in it together; it just didn't feel that way back then.
More than anything, the reunion felt like a celebration of survival. The best surprise? Classmates remember the good things about you -- not the bad. Nobody brought up my unfortunate junior-year haircut or my tragically inadequate high school wardrobe. They remembered that I was a good swimmer and that I loved the Rolling Stones.
While I have some bad memories from high school, they've been pushed into a dark, dusty corner by the warm, healthy faces of friends at the reunion. Throughout that evening, I heard the sweetest words to a newspaper reporter's ear: "I read your stuff all the time." One adored classmate told me I was one of the people he had hoped to see that night. I was able to thank another man for painstakingly removing a wad of gum thrown into my hair during algebra class. I reconnected with women from my Bluebird troop.
The reunion season has wrapped up. This former reunion-phobe is already scheming over how to get more people to attend our 30-year gathering. As part of my effort, I say:
Please go to your reunion. You don't need to buy new shoes, get a better job, lose 20 pounds, color your hair, get your kid into Harvard or out of jail. You are perfect as you are. The sight of you will make someone's night. I promise.
When I pondered the possibility of attending this party, my friend Jennifer Bach, who lives in Chicago and whom I knew from graduate school, told me to go. "People want to see you," she said. I told her I doubted that, because I didn't have many friends in high school. I was wrong.