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The school reunion – a baby boomer celebration

The 60s, 70s, and 80s live again as old school friends and foes reunite. What could go wrong?

This summer, I attended my high school form 50th reunion. On the way to the pub, the taxi driver told me that this year he’d never taken so many passengers to reunions. "What’s going on?" he asked. I wish I knew.

We tend to hold reunions every decade or so. And while most of the usual suspects turned up, there were some newcomers – those who had shunned previous reunions, seemingly happy to leave behind their school lives.

It was good to see everyone again and measure them up compared to the last reunion – more limps, 70s fashion quirks, thinning or no hair, talk of third marriages, and photos of grandkids.

Sadly, there were a couple of no shows plus the leaden conversation of realising their absence would be permanent and not the last. But it was chatting to the late reunion bloomers that I found to be most engaging. We spoke about the lost time and how they’d filled their lives in the past half-century.

Their explanations for coming to this reunion were touching: accidently opening a box of school photos, recent but abrupt thoughts about so-and-so from those school days for no apparent reason and wanting to confirm their memories of the good and the bad times at school.

It was the bad times that had kept them from previous reunions, including the competition to see who had done best at making the most of their lives. Fifty years on, and it seems that doesn’t matter anymore, and they felt more comfortable and curious. 

It is a feature of school reunions that they do get better with age. Here’s why:

  • The 10th reunion is the least well-attended and is probably the most pretentious.

  • The 20th reunion is the best-attended. Attendees are becoming diversified in their lives and are much less superficial than the decade before.

  • In the 30th reunion, attendees’ lives are quite varied due to divorce, remarriage, kids of all ages, and job changes. They are more confident and thus fewer bring their spouses. (It’s recommended if the husband/spouse is unlikely to know anyone, don’t bring him; wives, on the other hand, tend to do just fine in this situation.)

  • By the 40th reunion, the lives of the attendees become more similar, as they begin to confront the passing of “middle age” into “old age,” face illness, and are dealing with retirement.

  • The 50th – the “golden” reunion – is the second-best attended reunion. Nostalgia is very important. Most of the past pretence is gone.

  • Beyond the 50th, attendance at reunions tends to be much smaller. Those who do attend are glad to be out of the house – especially if their children let them drive the car.

Change of focus

Erik Erikson, a highly acclaimed psychoanalyst and a disciple of Anna Freud (Sigmund’s daughter), says that, between the ages of 18 and about 35, the young adult seeks committed, loving relationships.

Marriage and children are important. Love and intimacy are the goals. Isolation occurs if these goals cannot be attained. This is a major issue for individuals attending their 20th reunion.

From about age 35 to 60 we are focused on our careers, maintaining our relationships, and becoming involved in community affairs. The objective at this stage is productivity and caring.

If we fail in this regard, we become stagnant and unproductive. People attending their 30th, and particularly their 40th, reunions will be dealing with these concerns. 

From age 65, we slow down, retire, and contemplate: “Did we love? Did we live? and Did we matter?” The objective here is to be able to secure wisdom and integrity, as we approach our “final chapter.” People attending their 50th reunion and beyond are most certainly dealing with these concepts.

The general consensus regarding reunions, it appears, is that we are more alike than different.

We should attend, relax, connect, and have a good time. Here’s to the high school reunion!

Related reading: Find A Psychologist, LA Times


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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