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My Miserable 25th College Reunion

2016-10-09; published 2021-12-05

When you go to your 25th college class reunion, remember that it is important to have spent some time with people in your class during college.

Does everyone have this much fun at their 25th college reunion?

I had the experience this weekend of going to my college class’s 25th reunion. It turns out there are practical benefits to having your senior portrait in the college yearbook. There are also benefits to actually spending time in college with people in your class who go to reunions. Those benefits do not necessarily show themselves for 25 years, but they are real, and not to be dismissed lightly.

I didn’t know very many people in my graduating class. So on Friday evening I went to an all-alumni coffee house, hoping to connect both with people from my class and with others whom I might know. My dear and lovely wife of 21+ years came along to keep me company, for which I bless her. Of the two hours that I was there, I spent approximately 1.5 hours wandering through the crowds, then going back to sit with my wife and listen to jazz music. The music was good, and my wife’s company was superb.

On one of my laps around the crowd, I ran into my roommate from freshman year. Some people get a freshman roommate that they really like and get along with. I knew a couple of girls who met as freshman roommates and stayed together for four years. My freshman roommate and I liked each other so much that we didn’t room together, or really talk to each other, for the following three years or throughout the next 25. But, we talked for 10 or 15 minutes at our 25th reunion. Actually, it was nice to see him and talk with him.

Then I ran into the girl I spent a lot of time with the fall of my freshman year while I was madly in love with another girl, whom I was also spending time with. (What is the word for the person of the opposite sex that you spend time with while pining after someone else? I thought there was a word for that….) What I remember about my relationship with the girl I spent a lot of time with is that she had very strong and clear ideas about for everything, a strictly defined set of “boxes.” Our friendship(?) ended early in the winter/spring term when she asked me a question at lunch that I didn’t answer correctly. The question I thought I heard was, “Is God going to be the most important thing in your life?” I wanted to consider that challenge carefully, so I took a few minutes to think about it. But the question she thought she had asked was, “Is God more important to you than I am?” So my delay in answering really rattled her Passion and Purity worldview. That was pretty much the end of that, and ever after she warily avoided me, both during college and afterward.

(By the way, that conversation took place within a week after the 17-year-old-I had tried to tell the other girl that I was in love with her. That hadn’t gone well, either—she was the kind of girl who needed to be seduced, not to be told she was the object of someone’s affections, but I didn’t have (and still don’t have, really) any idea about how to go about that—so in the course of a couple of weeks my dysfunctional relational world came crashing down. It took a year for me to recover, at which points my age-mates had arrived and I started making friends with some of them in Concert Choir.)

So, on Friday night I’m talking to this woman whose boxes I didn’t properly fit into almost 30 years ago, and she asks me why I don’t have a picture of myself on my name badge like everyone else. I say, “Well, when I was a senior, I thought ahead to my 25th reunion and realized that I didn’t want to have a dorky picture of myself as a 20-year-old on my name badge. So I didn’t get a senior portrait done for the yearbook.” Cute joke, yeah, I know. Then she said, with a knowing smile, “You always were an independent thinker.” I could almost feel a hand patting me on the head. Then she and my wife got into a conversation, and I talked with her husband for a few minutes.

In all, I recognized 7 people out of 200–300: The three people I’ve just described, along with another person I talked to right after arriving, and then a classmate with whom I have shared a mutual dislike for as long as we’ve known each other, and two other classmates whose faces I recognized but whose names I couldn’t place because we never really interacted or had any kind of relationship to speak of. So I talked with four people and spent pretty much the rest of the event sitting with my dear wife, eating tasty but indigestion-inducing desserts, and listening to the jazz trio playing such greats as “Spain” by Chick Corea (one of my favorites, and the trio did it fine, but it really wasn’t why we had come).

On Saturday I should have gone to the all-alumni barbeque for lunch, which apparently is where a lot of families with children were.

Instead, we signed up for the class dinner on Saturday night. Upon arriving, my wife asked me two or three times if the other woman was there, the girl I had been passionately in love with not just as a freshman but all the way through college while never having the guts to talk to her at all until spring of senior year when I asked her out to lunch and she accepted once or twice before the reality that there was nothing between us finally began to sink in. She was on the list of people planning to come to the reunion, which I had checked beforehand just so I could prepare myself and try to be cool, calm, and collected. But after the second or third time being asked about her, I asked my wife to stop bringing her up because it was really making me nervous, because after all emotions that have been dead for 25 years still can have an effect on you under the wrong circumstances, which these were. I was having a hard time relaxing, not wanting to look around the room too much, but also trying to be ready in case some kind of conversation with her came about, as it did during our 15th reunion. Anyhow, she didn't come.

Then it was time to find a seat, and I had already talked with everyone I knew in the class and didn’t particularly want to talk to further. So we sat with some nice-looking people I didn’t recognize at all. Turns out they were nice people, and they didn’t recognize me, either. But we ended up having a reasonably enjoyable dinner with them. I sat next to a woman with whom I had shared a bunch of philosophy classes, so we were able to talk about that, and I was able to tell my favorite Arthur Holmes story.

It was a warm spring day in History of Philosophy class. The birds were singing and the sun was shining outside. Inside, the young philosophy students were forgetting all of that and remembering that they were hot-blooded young adults. The cheerful chatter remained unabated when Dr. Holmes stepped to the front of the room and said, in his thick Dover accent,

“Come to order.” No change to the continuing merry chatter.

A little louder and more insistent. “Okay. Come to order.” No change.

Finally, he raised his voice over the room and said, in a clear, loud, Dover-accented British voice, “Hey you! Shut up!” Silence.

I always enjoy telling that story, even though my table mate only smiled with mild indulgence and didn’t seem to remember that event. My wife, for her part, sat next to a man who had spent significant time in New York City and who told entertaining stories. So it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Besides, the President of the College came and gave a little speech, and that was definitely worthwhile.

Then we went to the college orchestra concert, which was amazing, and turned out to be the best part of the weekend.

But I wonder if more people would have recognized me, not just if I had had a dorky 2×3″ picture of myself that could barely be seen on my name badge, but if a color version of that picture had been in the yearbook for the past 25 years where they could see it and remember that I existed. Because I think, for most of the people in my college class, I didn’t exist, either then or certainly not at any time in the past 25 years. I know now, if I didn’t know it before, that it would in fact have been worth the boring hour it would have taken to get dressed up and get that picture into the yearbook.

I also think it would have made my 25th reunion better if I had actually spent more time in college with the people in my class, rather than making so many friends from other classes in Concert Choir, with whom I spent most of my time, and with whom I have never had the opportunity of a proper reunion at any time in the past 25 years. I can’t honestly say that I would change anything about my decision to build the relationships I built, but it does mean that the arbitrary reunion-by-graduating-class structure doesn’t really work for me at all. It also means that I am a lot more interested in all-alumni events, like the barbeque, where I might catch up with people I actually had friendships with, than I am in going to any more graduating-class events.

So, that was my miserable 25th college class reunion. I hope yours was or will be better. Maybe next year I will go and see some actual friends.

Cover Photo: “Reunion Coffeehouse,” copyright © 2016 by Sean Harrison. All rights reserved.

Update 2021: It was my 30th college reunion this fall. I didn't go, with the excuse that I was living in North Carolina, and my dad came down that weekend for a visit. I'm sure we had a much better time.