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Why I Didn’t Want to go to my 30th High School Reunion

In considering the usual psychological tropes for why alumni don’t attend their high school reunions my research has come to this:

  • (1)He feels too fat.
  • (2)She’s gotten divorced.
  • (3)He’s never been married.
  • (4) She doesn’t have children.
  • (5)He’s unemployed.
  • (6)She’s contracted the clap (which is preferable to the other, dreaded C-word).
  • (7)He hated high school.
  • (8)She peaked in high school (c’est moi?).
People are competitive.

They will gander about at their reunion to determine where they stand in the flock. How their successes and failures measure up to the successes and failures of their fellow graduates.

  • Men who still have hair will feel superior.
  • Women who still wear the same dress size they wore in high school will feel blameless and perhaps just a little bit holy.
  • Folks who have high-profile jobs and a happy home life will be equally canonized and reviled.
So why go to a high school reunion?

My 30th high school reunion takes place this coming Saturday, October 19th and originally I didn’t want to go. Here’s why:

My senior year in high school was extraordinary. After festering in obscurity freshman through junior year with a very bad case of frizzy hair and forehead zits, I suddenly came into the perfect storm of popularity.

I was not a “cool” kid. But, I was an extrovert/people-pleaser who hung out with the female jocks and the brains in the GATE program.

Turns out there were more of us my senior year than kids in the “cool” clique, that, and my relentless flirtatiousness, ultimately lead to me becoming Homecoming Queen and senior class president.

(If Obama were only more flirtatious the Republicans would certainly get back to work!)

Who could resist those incisors?

Who could resist those incisors?

I must’ve seemed, to most people, like I had the world by the tail.

Yet, I remember being depressed the last semester of my senior year. I felt bored and oppressed by my life, which seemed tiny and stagnant.

I couldn’t get out of high school, or my medium sized suburban town, fast enough.

Based on my senior year, I expected great things from myself, which is why I decided, after graduating USC with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, to throw it all aside to become a movie star.

Having never acted before. Because I’d been so popular in high school. Which would certainly translate to my adult life.

What happened next was astonishing.

I waited tables for ten years.

Ten years.

Ten. Years.

I could often be found in the bistro of Ocean Avenue Seafood in Santa Monica wearing a lobster-spattered apron and a fish-themed tie, hoisting a tray of grey goose martinis that, if not fully imbibed by patrons, I’d sneak to the bus station and shoot down with a sourdough bread chaser.

It was a glamorous life.

At 30, living in a one-room rent controlled studio apartment in Venice while a homeless guy named Ted sprawled unconscious across my lawn most days, I realized I was a failed actress and went back to get a masters degree at UCLA in a field I was certain to dominate.

Screenwriting. Because that’s not competitive. And I was Homecoming Queen, so it had to work out.

I’ve made a living, but am embarrassed to put in print my produced credits.

They weren’t Fonzi jumping the shark. They were worse. My greatest career satisfaction came when two one-act plays I wrote FOR NO MONEY were staged, sold out and made audiences laugh and cry.

And don’t get me started on my love life, which began inauspiciously at 16, when I attended junior prom with Vance Schmitz who never spoke to me again afterward.

I blame my father for answering the door cleaning his guns.

What followed were gorgeous, athletic men who cheated. Or nice men who couldn’t keep my attention.

Both my younger sister AND 8-years younger brother were married before me. Which is sad. Because, I wanted to get married to men who wouldn’t marry me.

I finally figured it out by the time I was 36, and married a truly magnificent man. It had only taken me 20 years.

I’m most proud of my husband and kids.

I’m also proud of my blogging work (even when I pimp out my head lice). And I can still fit into a generous size 8 (think Chicos not H&M).

But why go to my 30th high school reunion having not achieved all of the things I thought I should’ve done by now?

Initially, it was because I have to. I’m the one who is throwing the reunion because, having been senior class president, it’s my job.

So I put up a website, started a Facebook Group, got a People Finder’s account and began trying to find the 600+ people who graduated with me in June of 1983.

I wasn’t motivated, was a bit resentful, and decidedly lackluster about reconnecting with my past.

I began making phone calls. Two to three hundred of them.

Some lasting minutes, some for hours. I’ve spoken at length to people I hardly knew in high school, because we’re both curious about which way the wind has blown us, what we’ve survived, how we’ve thrived and who we’ve become.

What I’ve discovered is that life has treated us all pretty much the same.

The cool kids, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the brainiacs, the stoners, the geeks and even the Homecoming Queen.

Collectively we’ve:

  • Gained weight
  • Gone bald
  • Been divorced
  • Married late
  • Never had children
  • Have children we love to the point of pain
  • Suffered every ailment (including the dreaded “C” word)
  • Been under employed
  • Unemployed
  • Employed in jobs we never thought we’d be doing in a million years.
Very few of us has lived the life we expected to live.

Some of us are glad for that, others are frustrated, some are angry.

But to a wo(man) we are more humble. More forgiving of ourselves and others. More open to not knowing what the next moment holds, and feeling grateful we’re even here at all.

Because a sad and surprising number of us have already died.

What I hear again and again in these conversations is that, after 30 years, we recognize we’re more alike than we are different and in no small part because we embarked on our adult lives in the same moment.

Six hundred plus people scattered to the wind that sunny, dry Southern California June day. And whether we know it or not, we are each others’ touchstones. And will be, until we are no more.

This is the reason I’m going to my 30th high school reunion. Now if I can just look good in my dress. Even when I bend over. xo



21 comments

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  1. Rosie Carrillo
    Rosie Carrillo 15 October, 2013, 11:05

    You Will look good – always do! God bless the Class of ’83, and may you all have a great time! <3

    Reply this comment
  2. Serena Belva
    Serena Belva 15 October, 2013, 11:29

    I graduated with only 200 people and sadly, a large number of us have passed on. I am skipping my 10 year reunion because it just feels too soon to revisit those memories. I would like to think I will be able to have a healthy outlook such as yours in 20 years. I scold myself when I feel disappointed because I am not exactly where I envisioned I would be–I’m underemployed with a Master’s degree. You bring up very valid points. Thanks for reminding me to be thankful for what I DO have–my health and a family that loves me.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 15 October, 2013, 16:42

      Serena I’m shocked you’ve already lost so many classmates at the 10 year mark. That’s just so soon! 27 was perhaps my lowest year, things do seem to improve over time. Until we begin the final descent. (which sounds ominous and bleak. Sigh. I’m Irish. We’re naturally morbid).

      Reply this comment
  3. Mitchell Capalbo
    Mitchell Capalbo 15 October, 2013, 11:35

    First I want to Thank you!!
    2nd I want to Meet your Husband&You on Oct 19th :o)
    And Yes!! You said it right!
    I Am a Geek! And I am proud to have known you and Most of those 600 83 Grads.
    I remember that day very well, I had to play Trumpet in the Band even though I was Graduating. I did not know how much people actually liked me, until I stood up to go get my Diploma.
    I will be there on the 19th.
    Mitchell Sean Capalbo

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 15 October, 2013, 16:42

      Mitch — people who play the trumpet live much longer than non-wind instrument players. Just so you know.

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      • Mitchell Capalbo
        Mitchell Capalbo 15 October, 2013, 22:57

        Really Shannon?? I did not know that.
        I best start playing my trumpet again.. You hear that Paul Krumpe?? :o) Shannon You really are a Great writer. I dont usually read women’s blogs. But since I started reading yours, I`m thinking I can Figure out women. NOPE not going to Ever happen.:)

        Reply this comment
  4. Maria
    Maria 15 October, 2013, 12:43

    Loved this post. So comforting in so many way and as always so well written. Thank you!

    Reply this comment
  5. Tammy Winn
    Tammy Winn 15 October, 2013, 14:47

    Shannon,
    You rocked then and You’ll ROCK IT NOW! Looking forward to seeing you on Saturday. Thanks for organizing the sure-to-be…fun filled evening!

    Reply this comment
  6. Kim Lytton
    Kim Lytton 15 October, 2013, 19:09

    This was pretty amazing to read at this moment – I too have an upcoming reunion, Oct 18 and 19 – only it’s my husbands 40th, class of ’73; and also my 40th, class of ’74… go figure. Guess they put them together to, what, save money? Anyway, I haven’t been to one since my 10th… so it was great to read this as people are arriving in 2 days to stay with us for the big event… Very helpful to start wrapping my mind all the things you mentioned. Thanks!

    Reply this comment
  7. Alexandra
    Alexandra 16 October, 2013, 08:37

    Can’t wait to hear about it. Will your husb go with you??

    Reply this comment
  8. Princess Burlap
    Princess Burlap 16 October, 2013, 09:40

    I just opened this post and wow did it resonate. I’m talking like those big Asian gong things (I know, I’m so uncultured, but knowing is half the battle right?). 

    It’s funny to look back on that moment when we all walked through those double doors for the last time, having no idea that such a big world was waiting for us. Waiting to teach us, waiting to elevate us, waiting to chew us up and spit us back out like pale pink wads of Big League Chew. I used to gaze forlornly at the social media versions of those I graduated with, feeling small, feeling lost, feeling like I should have taken a left at Albuquerque.

    I spent most of my 20s feeling like I got locked out while the rest of my peers glided easily past life’s milestones. I watched them graduate college, start careers, meet Prince Charming, get married, buy homes, have babies… all the while I’m standing outside with my nose pressed against the glass, wishing I could join in. 

    A big part of that was because I, like you, was determined to “do something great” (which devolved quickly into waiting tables for 10 years), and insisted on picking men who didn’t want to marry me.

    It’s only recently that I finally pulled the right slip of paper out of the Man Hat and started to see life a little clearer.

    I think we’re all a little lost. But that might just be the fun part.

    Reply this comment
  9. Amelia
    Amelia 16 October, 2013, 10:00

    Oh, Shannon. You always make me laugh and think. I love your posts!

    Reply this comment
  10. Lady Jennie
    Lady Jennie 18 October, 2013, 03:56

    Great post, Shannon. Relatable and true! 🙂

    Reply this comment
  11. Betsy Barry
    Betsy Barry 21 October, 2013, 12:44

    Truthfully, this reunion I actually looked forward to. I’m to the point in my life that “I am who I am” and I’m comfortable with it! It was good to see the group again together. Someone asked who I wanted to see the most and I replied, “Nobody. I just want to see them all.” It was pleasing. And, a lot of fun!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 22 October, 2013, 10:25

      Betsy so glad you had a great time. So did I. I was finally able to relax and take it all in. And Greg Fisher ran the evening perfectly. Love that guy.

      Reply this comment
  12. Sam Klmens
    Sam Klmens 23 October, 2013, 20:14

    Shannon, I’ve read a few of your blog posts and enjoyed them very much, but sure wish I would have read this one before last weekend! The reunion was such a great time, but I love your perspective on it. Thank you for organizing and thank you for blogging!

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 23 October, 2013, 21:27

      Sam thanks so much for commenting. I never quite know who is reading and how things are being received so this makes me happy. I had no idea what a lovely time I would have last weekend. I just think everyone’s heads were in the right place and there was such a powerful sense of comaraderie and togetherness. And it was lovely to see you again. Maybe we need to do a 35 and not wait until 40. xo S

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  13. Karen D. Austin
    Karen D. Austin 6 November, 2013, 12:02

    A fun and insightful read. I attended my 10th (grad student then, not married, went alone). But I missed the 20th and 30th because it seemed too much travel and money with little kids and a very busy husband (I had my son when I was 36 and daughter when 39, so they were 1 & 4 and then 11 & 14 during those reunion years). I hope to attend my 40th. (Let’s hope that by ages 21 & 24 they can survive while I travel across the country for a reunion.)

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