The school reunion: 'Gone is the shock of seeing the Adonis as a bald, fat guy'


School reunions were once filled with trepidation and mystery – what had happened to classmates in the 10 or 20 years since you’d last seen each other? But Facebook and Twitter have changed all that, writes BRIAN O’CONNELL

LET’S BE honest about it, secondary school days were nowhere near the best days of our lives. There was the social awkwardness and the homework, the teenage angst and the unrequited love, the calculus and the confinement. School was basically forced incarceration fused with a daily dose of hormones – a place where intellectual and sexual frustration reigned supreme. There were cliques and dominant personalities, nerds and cool kids and five or six long years of it to get through.

So, why on earth would mature, free-willed adults ever want to organise or attend a school reunion? Well, thanks to the rise of online social media, school-day nostalgia is not nearly as stressful and anxiety-ridden as it used to be. Previously, if you got invited to a school reunion, say 10 or 20 years after leaving school, there was something of a blind decision to be made. You couldn’t possibly know if you would have to face again the class bully who flicked your ears for fun, or if your heartbreaking childhood sweetheart might also be there.

In the past, the apprehension of who could turn up often prevented many from accepting invitations to school reunions. Yet now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter and dedicated websites, many school reunions are being organised online with the result that each invitee can see exactly who has accepted invitations to attend and who hasn’t. Online social media also makes it easier to locate classmates many years on, and to continue with friendships and connections long after the reunion even has been organised.

So, is this a good or a bad thing? Twenty-nine-year-old Zoe Cunningham was not sure whether or not to go to her 10-year reunion last year. Zoe had remained on close terms with one of her former classmates, and together they had initially decided to attend. But when her friend had to pull out, it left Zoe unsure of whether to go it alone. “At first I had no hesitation, but when my friend had to pull out, I did reconsider. Because it was organised online, you could see in advance who had said yes and who had said no or maybe. So I went. At the event itself, there were two or three minutes of awkwardness, and then everyone fell back in as if we were all 18 again. It didn’t seem like 10 years had passed since we had all been together.”

Malachi Quinn, who runs MQ2 Communications, recently had his 21st anniversary reunion for his class at Blackrock College. Again, most of the organisation of the event was carried out online, but, in his opinion, this impacted somewhat on the whole point of a one-off reunion event. “Facebook has changed a lot of things in the last number of years and one of those is the element of surprise at school reunions,” Quinn says. “Gone is the shock of seeing the school Adonis as a balding fat guy and not the athletic hero last seen striding out the gates of the school.”

While online organising of school reunions has allowed for far more efficiency and ease with which to track down former schoolmates, Quinn says it has come at a price.

“Our school reunion was organised primarily through Facebook and while this certainly makes life much easier from an organisational point of view, it robbed us of the shock and surprise element. By the time you get to the reunion, you pretty much know what most of your classmates have been up to for the last 21 years. Having said that, this does have some advantages as at least most people at the reunion will know about topics that they have common with each other and that can make for a nice ice-breaker.” For those who do attend, Quinn argues that the demise of the Celtic Tiger has changed the atmosphere at many school reunions.

“I certainly found at the recent 21-year reunion, one thing that had changed since our last reunion at 10 years was that the element of bravado had gone. The demise of the Celtic Tiger might certainly have played a large part in this. At our second reunion, gone was the talk of big cars and impressive job titles and in its place parenting tips were swapped and second marriages discussed.”

Despite the rise of online social media, there still appears to be an ad hoc element to the organising of school reunions in Ireland. In general, urban schools seem better than rural ones at having institutional arrangements whereby classmates are contacted at regular intervals after they leave school.

The situation here contrasts sharply with that in the US, where school reunions are big business. Former classmates there are expected to contribute financially to 10- and 20-year events and reunions themselves are often three-day affairs. Amy Tullis Fricke is a 38-year-old sales representative based in Seattle who last summer attended her 20th anniversary reunion. Tullis Fricke had moved away from her local town many years earlier, so pretty much all the reconnecting was carried out online.

“It was completely organised through Facebook and websites. Someone started a Facebook page eight or nine months before the event, and by the end, there were 150 or so joined up,” she says. “There would have been about 400 in my graduation class so that’s quite a few considering that 20 years had passed. Even the payment for the weekend events were organised online through Pay Pal.”

For many in the US, school reunions are a welcome and well-attended tradition. Online social media has helped facilitate rather than prompt that process. “It’s a real tradition. I know my grandparents went to their high-school reunion for example, so it is pretty standard,” says Tullis Fricke. “I thought it was interesting with the online thing as it took away the anxiety of going back to something like that from your past. I mean, perhaps you haven’t kept in touch with people, but with the whole Facebook thing you can kind of get a feel for people before you meet.”

In Tullis Fricke’s case, this meant having to meet Dan Rosson, who was her high school prom date from two decades earlier. It turns out they both now live in the same city, and have decided to remain in contact since meeting at their reunion.

“We actually had quite a fun time together in person and being that we happen to live in the same city, we decided we needed to get together more than once every 20 years. So since then, we now text and tweet occasionally and stay in touch through Facebook. There have been maybe two or three actual phone calls. We went to an outdoor concert together and next week I’m going to his Christmas party.”

So, any chance of this new found online connection leading to real-life romance? “Oh I don’t think so. For a start, his boyfriend wouldn’t be too happy.”