Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended my 35th college reunion. I had attended previous reunions but had missed the last one, so I had not been back to my alma mater in 10 years and hadn’t seen most of my classmates since then. This lapse left me feeling more than a little apprehensive.
I had helped plan the reunion, which forced me to reconnect with a number of classmates, but it had still been ages since I’d seen them in person. I was looking forward to seeing old friends and traversing the picture-postcard campus, much of which had been enhanced since my last visit. I knew that 120 of our approximately 400 classmates were planning to attend. Beyond that, I had few expectations.
I had hoped to reconnect with several of my cohorts; however, I had not anticipated connecting deeply with several classmates I had barely known in college. Likewise, I could not have imagined that so many people would be relaxed, friendly and readily approachable, or that this reunion would feel like a loving, extended family coming together after a long hiatus. Finally, I never would have predicted that we would turn back time and revel like the freshmen we once were.
Yet, I experienced all of this, and more, in one short weekend.
I arrived early Friday evening in time for cocktails. My first Tito’s & Tonic with a fresh burst of lime set the tone for the weekend. Armed with cocktail, I plunged into the group, gravitating towards familiar faces. Gradually, I ventured out of my comfort zone. I soon found myself connecting for the first time with classmates whom I had not known well in college. Within the first hour, I began to feel completely at home.
Throughout that night and over the next day and a half, I engaged in many deep and meaningful conversations. I found my classmates honest, open and surprisingly humble. There was no sense of competitiveness or one-upsmanship, just forthright, candid communication– each of us listening intently to one another, trying to understand who we have become and what’s most important to us. I recall discussing with an old friend how we were raised to believe that our lives would follow a straight and narrow path: graduate high school, attend college (and maybe graduate school after that), get a job, make a certain amount of money, have a family, retire, etc. But then reality intervenes and life throws us curve balls, leading us on a path that more closely resembles a series of zig-zags than a straight line. We both acknowledged that these zig-zags and detours make us stronger and better, molding us into the people we are meant to be.
Judgment was mostly absent from the weekend. We were no longer “pigeon-holed” into particular categories based on our college social groups, fraternity affiliations or campus activities. My classmates seemed genuinely interested in getting to know me, as I am today. Likewise, I found myself fascinated and awed by the unique and sometimes incredible things my classmates have done and are doing, many of their lives so different from my own. I also discovered unexpected common ground with various classmates: connections to California and Colorado–two places where I spend a lot of time–as well as shared interests with fellow sports fanatics (my McMurphy’s buddies with whom I watched the NBA playoffs, you know who you are!) and still other ties to classmates whose children and mine are on similar journeys. I found these new connections surprising and affirming.
One of my personal highlights was participating in a panel discussion entitled “What’s Next?” during which classmates explored our evolving priorities and discussed what’s most important to us at this stage of our lives. I was inspired by what many of my co-panelists shared– the risks they’ve taken and sacrifices they’ve made to try new things and make the necessary changes to realize greater personal fulfillment.
And, as unfathomable as it may seem, for a brief period, we were actually transported back in time. One of our classmates hosted a college version of Jeopardy and grouped us into teams according to our freshman dorms. Topics included fraternities, alcohol, classes, couples, and hilarious college shenanigans. This brought back so many memories and reminded us that, despite how our lives have diverged over 35 years, we all began in the same place, as naïve 18-year-olds and that we will forever share the special and inexplicable bond of having attended the small college upon the hill.
So, here I am, some two weeks later. Back to my life, my classmates back to their own lives. But, unlike 35 years ago when landline phones and handwritten letters were our only means of communications, today’s technology makes it easy and fun to stay in touch with classmates across the country and the world. Since we parted ways post-reunion, many of us have remained in touch, sharing photos, thoughts and memories. Thank you to my college family. I have a renewed respect and admiration for each of you and can’t wait to see “what’s next” for everyone. I am already looking forward to our 40th!