When the postcard came in the mail, I read the words “Lake Highlands High School Class of 1998 20-Year Reunion” and audibly groaned. Not because I don’t love my Wildcat alma mater; I really do. But the miser in me doesn’t want to pay $72 to put my social awkwardness on display, and that doesn’t even cover an open bar of liquid courage. I call it extroversion on the rocks.
“But you have to go. It’s your high school reunion,” a miniature-sized Shelby whispered in my ear, though I’m not sure if this mini-me on my shoulders was dressed in white or red. I was genuinely torn. Generally when I write, I do so to inform and help answer reader questions, but transparently I often write to figure out how to do things — I needed to figure out how to go to my high school reunion.
There’s a few ways to go about this:
1. The Romy and Michele Way
In the 1997 movie Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion, two ditzy best friends travel from L.A. to their reunion wanting to show they’re better off now than they were in high school. When they realize their real lives are underwhelming, they concoct what is surely a fail-proof plan: “We can go to the reunion and just pretend to be successful,” Romy (Mira Sorvino) tells Michele (Lisa Kudrow). “I mean, who’s gonna know? They’re in Tucson. We’re here.”
For those that high school was the best time in their life, a reunion is a chance to see all the friends they lost touch with. Everyone else like me goes to see how time has treated their classmates, and hopefully show how they’ve well-adjusted in the past decade or two since high school. As for Romy and Michele’s strategy, Facebook pretty much kills your shot at pretending to be successful. Everyone already does that on Instagram.
2. The High Fidelity Way
Sure, if we’re naming John Cusack movies, I could use Gross Pointe Blank as a more relevant example, but I just don’t think a lot of us feel like a professional hit-man returning to town for his high school reunion. In High Fidelity, Cusack undergoes a cathartic journey to revisit his old girlfriends, talk about what went wrong, and discover something about himself that only time and maturity could reveal.
Now, I don’t mean slinking over to your old high school boyfriend to ask why he dumped you a month before that school-sponsored trip to Italy you were planning together. (I guess I’ll never know why.)
But how about opening up to your former classmates by revealing something real about yourself and sharing a kind word with others? The popular Highlandette drill team officer admitting everything wasn’t as perfect as it seemed. The athletic, I-modeled-for-JC Penney guy telling the wallflower girl that he always thought she was pretty then and now. The student newspaper editor admitting she didn’t know the power of her words when she wrote a snarky editorial about the Lake Highlands girls service league.
Oh, I also write to hide behind my written words, which are better at saying what I’m thinking than I’m actually able to.
In high school, I was an unremarkable A/B student (with a hard-fought C in math). Lake Highlands had such a large percentage of students in honors classes, that my otherwise respectable transcript barely cracked the top 25 percent of the class. Occasionally I clung to the bottom rungs of the party crowd — less to party and more to blend in with the kids whom I once called my best friends in elementary school. But I spent most of my time at the newspaper, which served me well for my chosen career. Now I’m a writer, journalist, and podcast host, and being seen at the right party with the right people back then did nothing to help accomplish that.
There’s a third way to go about attending your high school reunion: Without all the expectations and trepidation we put ourselves through.
That comes with realizing that no one had a perfect high school experience, and even if they did, their own teenage insecurities cast those good times through a distorted lens to make them believe it was fraught with awkwardness, heartache, and FOMO before it was called such a thing — just like the rest of us.
After Romy and Michele’s plan to reinvent themselves as successful businesswomen flops, Romy retreats to the bathroom, crying, “All I ever wanted was for people to think that we were better than we were in high school.” Michele replies with uncharacteristic wisdom, “I never knew we weren’t that great in high school.”
Maybe the members of the in-crowd were, too, just a rung in a giant social ladder that doesn’t have a summit. And maybe the rest of us let our insecurities make us believe we were somehow less than adequate in high school, when actually we were just fine.
With that, I decided to RSVP, “Yes.” One of two things will happen: either I’ll have an enlightening conversation with someone I never expected and gain a whole new perspective on the high school experience …
… or this: