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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Glory Days?

Hey, you’re _____. Good to see you! So what are you up to these days?” That was the question that got asked a lot at my last high school reunion. No wonder – 25 years have passed since we were all 18, and a lot has changed in our individual and collective lives: gains and losses, triumph and tragedy. But would there be enough commonality to connect us? I was curious about how these people – who came to the reunion voluntarily as opposed to a forced-fun situation -- would interact: would cliques be intact? Would the former debaters huddle and talk politics? Would the jocks boast about the glory days? Would the “nerds” be CEOs? Could the cheerleaders have sustained peppy personalities for a quarter of a century?

Moving from conversation to conversation, I noticed a gender-relevant trend: almost without exception, the women tended to relate via their life stage situation: “I’m a single mom now, and I’m helping take care of my aging parents.” Whereas guys seemed to define themselves by their job or major life changes: “I gave up music once I finished my engineering degree”; “Now, I’m ready to settle down with the right girl…not easy, ‘cause I’m a single dad”; “I’m still in the military, but now I teach strategic leadership courses”; or “I’m still in the insurance business, and I coach my kid’s soccer team. They’re 4-1”.

Unlike our 5-year reunion, where everyone was riding the wave of being out of college (or at a solid job), or our 10-year reunion (where people felt compelled to justify their progress or barriers), the 25-year reunion had a certain calm about it. Could it be that we, the rowdy Class of 1986 had actually settled down? Yes. Even the former rebels, punks and self-proclaimed ‘freaks” were pretty easygoing. A unifying commonality was the willingness of people to open up to catch up. The women were in their natural element of emotional connecting; the men had retired their braggadocio and were comfortable enough in their own skins to relate as current contemporaries, not shells of former selves.

But what really took me by surprise was how many people had used Facebook as a portal for connecting personally: They offered condolences on my mother’s death; they asked if I was dating anyone, and asked me how the house remodeling was coming. The overall feelings was one of relief – that we somehow made it 25 years and were brave, able and willing enough to come back home – and reconnect as alums, regardless of where we are on life’s path individually, as a bunch of dudes, or as just people. Life as we knew it is no longer; the Blue Ridge Mall and Bannister Mall that defined our social lives have been torn down. Male or female, “popular” or not, we were all there, together, if but only for brief chats. “Remember when we…?” was often followed by a “Yeah, I think…”

So where do you stand: firmly in the present, longing for the past, or focused on your future? If you knew then what you know now, would you have lived your “glory days” differently?

by Derek McCracken

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