The High School of Life

Much to the chagrin of my youth (or rather, my denial over the fact that I am no longer a teenager crushing on a new boyfriend, while flipping burgers in my local Wendy’s) – my 10 year high school reunion is now upon me.  I am not going; yet, more than the event-itself, the words “10 year reunion” leave a strange taste in my mouth; that is hard to pinpoint, yet impossible to ignore.
The nature of the last ten years (of course) can be described as: quick, indecisive, unexpected, and (in a nutshell) other than what I planned.  If I were going to my high school reunion, I’m sure I would run in to many others that followed the same path.  There would be those who were going to make it big, and now still work as baggers at Jewel.  There would be those who said they would never get married or have children, and are now endowed with a spouse and enough children to man a little league baseball team.  And I’m sure more than anything, I would especially find those who everyone thought would fail, and now are doing more with their lives then many of us could even imagine.
The whole point of an high school reunion is to get together and see how everyone has changed.  Who looks older?  Who looks young, still?  Who has put on weight?  Who has had kids?  Who is still single?  What are people doing with their lives; and how does it compare to what they wanted ten years ago?  It is an end-all-be-all reconnection of people who promised never to fall out of touch, yet inherently did.  And much like the last dance of senior year, or of the parties after graduation before everyone went off to college, it is a night of empty promises and self-reflection.

In other words, it is like going back in time and having one more night of high school.  Yet the truth is that high school never ended. 
High school is about looking at each other and either quietly or loudly judging them.  It is about teasing people because they are band geeks, or avoiding the bullies.  It’s about thinking that the Associated Student Body is actually vital to the school, and that Model UN will really help save the world and all it’s problems.  It is about the cafeteria; the homeroom; the PE teachers that everyone hates; and the cool kids versus the strange ones.  And there is an overwhelming sense of conformity – within your own group; and within the school.  It’s about ditching class to hang out with your friends, and about playing the part of a mini-adult not yet old enough to make it in the world; not yet smart enough to know that this mini-adulthood is the best time you will ever have.
On this night of my 10 year high school reunion, I realize that life is nothing more than high school.  Ten years ago people were judging each other for their looks, their ideas, and their plans – today it is no different.  People still bully.  The cafeteria has just been renamed “the breakroom;” homeroom “the cubicle” – the PE teacher is now your boss, and we still all hang out with the types of people we did all along.  Tonight at the reunion, they will look at each other and judge for what has been done and (moreso) what has been left undone.  There will still be people trying to fit in with the popular crowd.  There will be people making their careers out to be more than they are; their happiness out to be something it is not.  Even the reunion of the high school class resembled high school – with its lack of support in planning, lack of funds from the school, exclusion of people who would have gone or helped, and the drama that surrounded the event.
What comes with this unchanging reality, though, is that unsettling truth that while we may still live in a real-world version of high school, we are now much different then we were ten years ago.  In other words – in an ultimately paradoxical way, we are faced with the contradiction of living in high school, yet no longer having its comforts.  We still may cling to the same groups of people we once did when we were freshman and sophomores, struggling for survival in the teenage jungle; but the friends we have not seen in ten years will not be seen for another ten more.  At my 10 year reunion, people will make promises to each other; they will say they will keep in touch – but just as the promises in the yearbooks and at the graduation ceremony, ten years from now we will be wondering where everyone went.
But the conformity is still there.
And this is the main reason I am not attending my 10 year high school reunion.  It isn’t so much because I live all the way across the country from where I grew up; or because the cost of airfare and travel is more than I can afford right now.  It isn’t really because the notification was short, and because many of my real friends are not going.  These all weighed in to my decision to stay home, but ultimately it is because after years of branching out; doing my own thing; living my life according to my rules – this one night would call everything into question.
A very good friend of mine responded to my question as to whether he would be attending the reunion by saying: “you know, I have spent the last ten years of my life trying to forget about that place, why would I want to go back now?”  I think this hits home for many of us who decided not to go.  I loved the people I was friends with, but I hated the experience of being immersed in the chaos, the judgment, the drama, and the conformity.  By choosing not to go to the reunion, I am not rejecting the people or the event – and I will always try and stay in touch with those for whom I cherish some of the best, and most valuable, memories.  
But I reject the high school of life; and I am much better off for it.

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