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Tips for Surviving the High School Reunion

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It was a like a scene straight out of the teen comedy Mean Girls. I’m standing outside on a restaurant patio in Houston, casually chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, and then it happened. Out of nowhere, Ericka walks up, interrupts our conversation to speak to her, grabs me and says, “Oh My God! Lorri, you look sooooooo much better than you did in high school!”

Welcome to my twenty-year high school reunion.

Honestly, I wasn’t completely sold on going when the first reunion announcement came out. I wavered a bit as I watched my friends debate back and forth on Facebook about whether they were going to attend or just skip out on the event all together. I figured since I missed the first ten-year get together, this would be the perfect way to catch up with old friends and reconnect. After all, it had been twenty years since we wrote in our memory books our hopes and dreams for the future! And before I go any further, please know it was an incredibly huge deal for me to even consider going to reunion as I considered myself quite the shy and timid gal in high school. Yes, I had dated a bit, and was even involved in dance and choir activities, but I still remember high school as one of the most awkward periods in my life. And if some of us will suck it up and admit it, there were times when we wanted to fit in so badly we did completely idiotic things just to gain acceptance while roaming the halls filled with lockers and backpacks. So how crazy was it to want to go back when I ran the risk of still being seen as the skinny, brace-faced girl?

I weighed the pros and cons and the worst-case scenarios of what could happen if I dared show up. I even thought of my “not-yet” list, the things I’ve yet to accomplish like marriage and family and then realized that I’ve already achieved so many other important things on my list that I’m officially the only person allowed to judge me at this point in my life. With that being said, it was now or never. I was up for the challenge. I purchased my ticket, and packed up my clothes.

Sidebar: It’s a shame the pressure we put on ourselves to look good to others and to prove them wrong about all the opinions they had about us in the past. And for a hot minute, I was running around in my hotel room trying to figure out which outfit made me look the best, which shirt didn’t show the pooch in my stomach since I skipped working out last week and on and on and on. So after twenty minutes of driving myself crazy trying to figure out what would be the “best” outfit, I gave up, put on the clothes that I felt most comfortable in, and headed out the door.  

I had a great time at the reunion and even though I spent a lot of the time figuring out who was who and what class we took together, I decided to share my takeaways from my twenty-year reunion weekend.

1. Be true to yourself. I could have easily gone into defensive, catty girl mode and snapped back at Ericka for her poor taste in words about how much better I looked now. Instead, I found it more empowering to take the high road, give a smile and utter a simple “thanks!” See, the truth is, we all look and feel better when we become more confident in ourselves and stop worrying about what other folk think. So was her comment tacky or perhaps even a backhanded compliment? Absolutely in my humble opinion, but, after thinking about it, that was more a reflection of her and not me. One thing about me is that I’ve always preferred to be graceful even in spite of my inner ninja desire to pull out my sword and cut people to pieces when they behave badly. And remembering there were more positive comments from friends such as “You look great!” or “I love your hair!” I relaxed knowing that I will never be able to control what others think, but I can always control how I choose to react. And in true ninja form, I said to myself: “education and money can always buy you things, but doesn’t guarantee class.” Which leads me to my next takeaway …

2. Impress yourself. One of the things I so enjoyed about reunion weekend was that so many people seemed to be at peace with themselves. I didn’t hear too many stories of peers tooting their own horn of how they’ve become moguls and how big their latest house is in the hottest neighborhood and hopefully it wasn’t meant to be that kind of party. Everyone was remarkably down-to-earth, even with the presence of several classmates that have now hold high-profile positions in the country. Now, don’t get it twisted, by no means were the “nerdy boys” and “gawky girls” from years ago suddenly sipping champagne together with the once-popular crowd’s table. What it did mean was that they’ve grown up and developed relationships with people who truly love and respect them for who they are. It was heartwarming to see so many husbands and wives beam as they were introduced by classmates and how proud they were of their spouses. Even for my single folk and those who chose to leave their significant other’s at home, they looked incredible and were having a great time. I think it came from the life lesson that when you focus on yourself, and do what makes you happy, it definitely shows and brings out the best in you. Finally …

3. Accept that some people will not change. This was a shock for me and for a split second I secretly craved the comfort of a spouse (or a least a Snickers bar) when I ran smack dab into a female who didn’t like me in high school. Apparently, she was determined to continue the trend of dislike till death do us part. I was truly surprised at her behavior as we’ve never uttered a word to each other in our lives and amazed that she still refused to be cordial. I realized that again, although we grow older in number, we don’t necessarily mature and let go of childish ways. I danced on the floor next to her and watched out of the corner of my eye as she and her girlfriend dissected my outfit from my hair to my face to my clothes. Yes, I contemplated addressing their concerns with me as my inner ninja wanted to scream, “GROW UP WOULD YA?!” but just sighed and realized that some people simply will never change. I’ve always been idealistic to a fault, thinking time challenges us to evolve. However, I recognized that you just can’t force a person to like you nor should you try. I gathered my thoughts, and returned to spending time with a couple of old classmates I became fast friends with via Facebook.

I really appreciated the wisdom of Karen, my classmate who almost lost her life in a car accident not even three months ago. Her goal was to celebrate her life and the others around her at the reunion in spite of all that she’d been through. After all, that was really why we flew into town, rented hotels and rental cars, and got dressed up in our finest, right? I glanced across the room and couldn’t help but think how proud our teachers would be. In a span of twenty years, we moved from band geeks to directors, cheerleaders to principals, dancers to teachers and doctors, and from class clowns to business owners and protectors of our country’s leaders. We even had a female referee in our presence! Quite frankly, our class has got it going on and we deserved to celebrate our accomplishments if only for one weekend.

So, was the reunion perfect? No, but nothing ever is. Did I escape without getting my feelings hurt and not have to worry about pulling my big-girl panties up? No and No. But I did learn that I love myself way more than I did twenty years ago and things that would have crushed my spirit way back when are now more like little paper cuts that you just put a band aid on and keep it movin’. I remembered for the first time since graduation that I was voted most talented by our class senior year and almost forgot until the first question someone asked when I walked in was, “Didn’t I see you on TV in a commercial?” Wow, I thought to myself, I’ve just been doing what I love and making the most of what of the gifts God has given me. Like many of my peers, we’ve accomplished more than we imagined in a short amount of time.

High school can be an incredibly hard time in life for a lot of us whether we care to admit it or not. But I had to smile and think it was definitely worth it to come back and remember who we were, and celebrate who we’ve become. As for my list, I’d like to officially cross off, successfully surviving my twenty-year high school reunion.


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