On Saturday, I went to my 30th high school reunion. I went with a bad attitude and left five hours later with a smile and a dozen new/old friends.
Thanks to social media, this reunion was an entirely different affair than my 20th reunion. The 20th reunion was arranged by a vanilla reunion service. I went without much knowledge of my other classmates. This time, four classmates arranged the night on their own. They set up a group on Facebook and posted notices and old pictures for months. I’m now Facebook friends with about 40 old classmates, so I’m up to date on their children’s Bar Mitvahs and their political beliefs. It’s a lot easier to start a conversation with someone when you’re been eavesdropping on their lives for five years.
But all those old pictures of smiling cheerleaders on the Facebook page dredged up all the old feelings of insecurity and dislike at the high school mean girls. Selfies, and the 80′s versions of selfies, are the ways that girls hurt other girls. They say, “we’re cute and you’re not in the club.” These are the subtle shades of meanness that boys will never understand.
So, I thought the big story about the evening was going to be about me and the mean girls, but it wasn’t. The mean girls were there, and they were still mean, but they were non-entities of the evening. They still stuck in their circle and loudly giggled and posed for new selfies, but everyone just ignored them. During a conversation with an old acquaintance, she paused our conversation to snarl at the mean girls, but other than that, their presence was irrelevant to the evening.
Really, the most interesting part of the evening was that the vast majority of the people at the party were interesting, warm, and kind. Several times, people admitted to being massively insecure in high school and wished that they had been less afraid to talk with others.
Also, the vast majority of my class is extremely successful. Sure, you aren’t going to go to your high school reunion if you’re an alcoholic shut-in, but with nearly 100 out of 220 classmates present, the success rate was still very impressive. Some are newspaper and television reporters. Others are famous surgeons and venture capitalists. There were major real estate developers and high-end lawyers. Most lived in the New York City area with impressive zip codes.
Most people handled their success with grace and modesty. Only when they walked away from an easy-going conversation would another friend whisper in my ear the real story. There were a few amusing exceptions. One extremely short guy propelled his trophy wife through the crowd with a hand on the small of her back. Another guy showed up in a stretch hummer limo with the license plate NY-VP. I’ve very sorry that I missed out talking to the guy who has been the subject of many Gawker articles.
I grew up in a very wealthy town, just ten minutes from the George Washington Bridge. Our high school brought in kids from the next town, which is the wealthiest zip code in the country. My public school was as exclusive as any private school in Manhattan.
We lived on the poor side of town with the cops, firemen, and the professors. Well, the professors in the humanities and social sciences. One friend’s dad was a law professor at Columbia and another friend’s dad was a business professor at Columbia; they lived in the fancy section. But we lived in a tiny Cape Cod, that my parents could barely afford. There wasn’t much left over to get me the right jeans and the right shoes in middle school, which fueled my insecurities.
The success stories weren’t just limited to the top honors student types. Even the average students had grown into very successful adults. They multiplied their parents’ money tenfold. Success breeds success. But at the same time, their successes were real. They are hard-working, smart, and creative people. They may have been born on the third, but they got to homebase on their own steam.
My boys are also growing up as less-wealthy kids in a wealthy town. Jonah’s friends ski in Vale and Austria over spring break; we hang out at the food court at the local mall. We’ve had serious reality-check chats with Jonah about vacations and sneakers and laptop computers. I’m sure that he’ll have some scars about money-issues, but I hope that he’ll also appreciate the opportunities that he’s been given by living here. I hope that he’ll be able to judge a person not by the brand of jeans that they wear, but by the quality of their character. And I hope that if he finds success as an architect or a web-designer, he’ll not bring a trophy wife to his 30th year reunion.