This Friday night is my 10 Year School Reunion.
I generally feel a little ambivalent about reunions. Is there any point? Don’t I see the people I want to keep in touch with anyway? Why do I need to revisit some time and place that has, thank God, long since passed? And this particular reunion costs $40 to attend. I can think of lots of other worthwhile things on which to spend $40.
A friend of mine says that really, school reunions are relics of the pre-Facebook age, when you didn’t actually know the details of what everybody was up to and who’d put on weight and how many kids people ended up having etc etc. Now of course we know all of that stuff – those of us who are social media users, that is – without ever having to make a re-acquaintance at an awkward reunion function. My friend’s own high school reunion was cancelled for lack of interest. It turned out that everybody’s curiosity had long been sated.
I can see why many of us favour Facebook, over awkward $40-a-pop reunion events. When you are reunited with people in flesh, you not only get to see how the other person turned out, but you are forced to display how you turned out as well. This is vulnerable stuff.
When you are 17 or 18 years old, the world is your oyster. Your future is laid out before you like a pure unmarked canvas, pregnant only with potential. The high-achieving students are expected to go out and transform the world (that was me). The socialites are expected to remain as successful and popular as they were in school. The odd people on the edges are expected to find their niche in the world, and become millionaires.
When we were leaving school, our teachers reiterated to us how much potential we had inside each of us, like energy in waiting. Many of us believed we could do great things.
Ten years on, and we’ve had ample opportunity to mark our canvases.
Some of us have spectacular creations, of the kind we might never have imagined possible.
Some of us have a bunch of truncated beginnings, squiggled tentatively at various points across the page.
Some of us have something quite different from what we’d originally sought to create, and we aren’t sure what to think of it.
And some of us will be ashamed and embarrassed by what we find before us.
A 10 year union is a time to draw the curtain and let others see what we got. For many of us, this is a terrifying thought. School itself is a fairly competitive environment – especially, I might say, when you go to a private school. Marks, looks, sporting prowess, musical achievements, popularity – we were constantly sizing ourselves up against each other, within a system that only encouraged this. For some of us, a ten year union might feel like the ultimate test – of not just our maths or English or PE abilities – but of our whole person, it seems. How far have I got, since that starter gun went off 10 years ago? And how far has everyone else got?
I must admit, I too have a competitive streak. It’s tempting for me to size myself up against my old peers, and compare how far I’ve got. It would be fairly fruitless, though – and not just because I haven’t done anything particularly glamorous or ‘successful’ in my 10 years since I left school.
The reality is that the idea of ‘success’ (like wealth, power, ‘achievement’ or glamour) is founded on a myth. The myth is that success has value in and of itself, and that it provides us with worth.
Success does not give us worth. Being successful makes us feel worthwhile – temporarily, like a soufflé. Success gives the illusion of worth. When we size ourselves up against each other, illusion is commodity that we trade in. Meer puffs of wind.
Let me tell you, it’s a fruitless exercise. It’s taken me 10 years to realise that. Maybe at my 20 year union I’ll finally give it up for good.
I held on to my school reunion RSVP form for well beyond the date it was due. But finally I filled it out, complete with credit card details, and stuffed it into a post box.
Because despite my qualms, I felt that my time at Ivanhoe Grammar was significant. They weren’t the best years of my life by any stretch, but they weren’t terrible either. There was a sense that I needed to revisit and acknowledge those years. To pay my respects, in a way, to a place and a people who (for better or for worse) had shaped me.
So this Friday night I will go to my 10 Year School Reunion.
I have to now – I’ve already paid my $40.