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Thursday, December 1, 2011

REUNIONS: THE CLASS OF 1972

When you bring up the subject of High School reunions, people tend to have mixed emotions on the subject. Some are excited about renewing friendships, others loathe the prospect of seeing someone from a dark chapter of their youth. As for me, I skipped my 10th anniversary as I wanted to distance myself from my past. Frankly, I was busy trying to build a career and didn't consider a reunion very important at the time. Both my wife and I graduated from a small high school in Cincinnati with a total class size of less than 150. When our 20th reunion came around, my wife encouraged me to attend, which we did. Subsequently, we also attended our 30th reunion and now our 40th beckons next year. I have found the experience enjoyable and, believe it or not, I'm looking forward to next year's gala.

In a small high school you tend to know everyone, either as friends, adversaries, or simply slugs attending the same class. I have fond memories of my time there and, like anyone, there are things I would have done differently if I had the opportunity to do it over again, but obviously such is not to be. I have made some lifelong friendships from the experience even though I was first considered an outcast who moved into the area from Chicago just prior to my Freshman year, which was significantly different from a cultural perspective. I initially had trouble adapting to the area but eventually developed friendships and found my way through High School with few scars. Along the way, I met my future wife who, like me, was new to the area and considered an outsider. Out of our class, I believe five couples married their High School sweethearts and remain so to this day, including yours truly.

Fortunately, there is still several classmates living in our hometown who helped organize the reunions over the years. Their patience and persistence in trying to do what is best for the class as a whole is truly admirable. Alas, someone always complains about the arrangements no matter how hard the group tries. The critics are usually those who like to sit on the sideline and complain as opposed to volunteering their time in planning the event. I suspect our 40th reunion will be no different.

At our 20th reunion, I found a lot of people still trying to impress each other. Men were dressed in power suits, women is beautiful dresses. Everyone was quick to show pictures of their children and played a game of one-upmanship by talking about how successful they had become. Some tried to sell themselves too much and I learned to turn a deaf ear in their direction. Most people though were down to earth and although they had aged slightly, they were the same people underneath. The drunks were still drunk; the intellectuals were still in school, the gays of the class had come out of the closet (to the surprise of nobody), and the druggies had found Jesus. Actually, I found the people who had been the quiet wallflowers of the class had blossomed into the most interesting, not to mention possessed a great sense of humor. Best of all was the opportunity to share a few laughs with old pals. As a footballer, I became reacquainted with several teammates and subsequently went on many fly-fishing trips with them.

I think the most astute comment made at our 20th was when one of the reunion organizers playfully observed, "Gee, when did we become our parents?" Although it was said half in jest, it had become a startling reality.

Our 30th reunion was different. People dressed down a bit and were no longer obsessed with trying to impress others. Instead, they appeared to be more comfortable and sociable. Photos were still shown, but mostly of graduations, weddings, and grandchildren. It was here that someone broached me with the subject of retirement, a foreign concept I hadn't considered. For some reason, I have an aversion to the thought of being put into mothballs, but others seem to embrace the concept, even looking forward to it. To each their own I guess.

Perhaps the most interesting person I met at this reunion was a footballer who quit the team following our Junior year in protest of the head coach who was a bit tyrannical and had trouble understanding our class. As it turned out, this was a decision which haunted my friend for a number of years, something he deeply regretted as he possessed a love for the game. This disturbed him so much so, he was embarrassed to attend any of the earlier reunions. We all assured him that we were glad to see him and, as far as we were concerned, he was still a member of the team.

Now another planning committee has been formed for our 40th reunion next year. My role over the years has been to develop and maintain the web site for the class which I try to do faithfully. Between this and the general good will of the classmates, I believe we're better organized and enjoy higher attendance than most High School classes. Regrettably, we have lost eleven classmates over the years, which may not seem like a lot, but it is noticeable in a small class like ours.

More than anything, reunions tell us about ourselves as opposed to others; how we have developed, what kind of person we have become, and if we are at peace with ourselves. Some tend to view it as a sort of scorecard to see if we are better or worse than others in our class, which strangely confirms our sense of success or failure. Some cannot cope knowing this, which is perhaps why they tend to avoid it, either that or they simply couldn't stand anyone in the class. It would be a big mistake to assume that none of us have changed over the years, that we're the same meatballs we were in high school. True, we may understand the essence of our classmates, but it would be wrong to assume time stopped and nobody changed. We've matured, we've made mistakes, we've learned, and we are wiser for it, which is why I enjoy attending the reunions. Frankly, using reunions as a scorecard is the wrong reason for attending. Instead, it should be a celebration of friendships, past and present, to laugh about the past, talk about the future, and enjoy the society of our peers.

So, do I really relish seeing my classmates? Maybe not on a daily or weekly basis, but every decade or so, it is a hoot. Here's to the Class of 1972.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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