High School reunions are about more than catching up with people you haven’t seen in decades.
Reunions give us the space to reflect on just how far we’ve come.
I recently attended the 50th reunion of Dunbar Vocational High School’s Class of 1967, and it was a humbling experience.
Like most people, I approached this milestone with apprehension.
Given that I went through four years of high school barely able to see because I didn’t want to wear my thick glasses, I knew I wouldn’t recognize faces that had aged 50 years.
And really, what do you say to people you haven’t seen since you walked down the aisle in a cap and gown?
But there was plenty to talk about.
Some of my classmates had used their vocational training as a means to support families. Others had built their own businesses. More than a few were educators and nurses. One was a lawyer, another a minister.
It only takes one or two reunions to figure out that many of the people you thought were so cool in high school really weren’t cool after all.
We were a class of about 350, but only 70 people showed up, and that included spouses and significant others.
Tommie L. Williams, a well-known figure in the South Side’s stepper community, has been involved in putting together the class reunion since 1987.
“What is refreshing to me was the good time everyone had. I got a lot of feedback and a lot of texts. People really enjoyed themselves and they were glad they came,” he said.
This reunion made me especially nostalgic.
After all, high school left a lasting impression on many of us because it was the place where we tried to figure out where we fit in.
Some of the decisions we made in high school affected our entire lives.
The lessons we learned in high school are worth passing on to young people today.
For instance, being popular has its pitfalls.
Many of the girls who got into relationships early ended up pregnant and never completed high school.
If I had it to do over, I would have had a wider social network. I certainly wouldn’t have sat at the same lunchroom table with the same group of girls for four years.
JoAnn Jackson, who now lives in Milwaukee, is one of those people who floated from clique to clique.
Her advice to high school freshmen is based on the golden rule.
“I taught my children growing up to treat people the way they wanted to be treated and to put themselves in their shoes,” Jackson said.
“I would tell freshmen not to think that they are better than anyone else. The poorest person or the [most ragged] person could very well turn out to be your friend and end up helping you one day. You shouldn’t judge people,” she said.
Jackson also admitted she would “study a little harder.”
“I had a really strict father and the only chance to have fun was in school. I liked to help people, but I was helping them to do something naughty,” Jackson said with a chuckle.
Williams, a successful accountant, also said he would have been more focused on his studies.
“I started slacking off the closer I got to graduation. I got one ‘D’ my whole time in high school and I got it in my senior year,” he said.
“I would say freshmen need to pay attention to what counselors and teachers are telling them. High School is actually laying the foundation. Freshman year is a transition for them from being a kid to being a person,” Williams pointed out.
The main reason most people go to their 50-year reunion is to see how they stack up against their peers.
Most of my former classmates have retired from rewarding careers that they credit to the vocational training they received at Dunbar.
That’s not surprising.
What was surprising, however, was how absolutely fabulous everyone looked.
Only a couple of people visibly struggled with physical disabilities, although several people said they had undergone knee replacement surgeries.
But most of my high school classmates looked like they had discovered the fountain of youth.
Several women actually danced the “Watusi,” “Twist,” and “Twine” wearing spike heels.
“Clean living” is the secret, said Carol Walker, a silver-haired woman who looked like she was in her early 50s.
That’s sound advice — then and now.