The Importance of Reunions: High School, Family and Friends

What can be gained by attending them.

Posted Apr 13, 2018

  • Ben is a 43-year-old man who just received an announcement for his 25-year high school reunion. It’s been years since he saw his old classmates and he has mixed feelings about attending.
  • Jennie and Pat grew up on the east coast but moved to Oregon to attend college where they met and married upon graduation. Although they keep in touch with their immediate families, they have not kept up with other relatives. A distant cousin sent them an invitation to attend an extended family reunion weekend in Massachusetts. It sounds interesting, but it may be too difficult to take their four children there.
  • Monica, Cynthia, and Candy were best friends growing up. Despite going to different colleges and settling in different states, they have kept up with one another through phone calls, emails, cards, and photos. It’s been a long time since they’ve seen one another in person because all three are married, have children, and are working. They talk about having a reunion, but nothing has happened yet.

All three stories reflect problematic issues related to reunions:

  • Ambivalence about attending a reunion
  • Difficulties in attending a reunion
  • Lack of commitment to organize or implement a reunion

Attending reunions can present psychological, financial, and logistical problems. That is clearly not the intent of reunions; yet, these issues often exist. Why?

High school reunions tend to bring up old memories, some of which may be unpleasant—like seeing the “mean girls” who used to make fun of you or the girl who turned you down when you asked her to the prom.

People may also be reluctant to go their high school reunion because of feeling embarrassed about their physical appearance or insecurity about their lack of achievements since graduation. The idea that individuals will be compared now to their adolescent self or their grown classmates may carry the risk for regretting how their life turned out. 

On the other hand, high school reunions can be eye-opening. We usually develop wisdom and maturity as we age. Encountering our former classmates and recalling old memories, good and bad, may help us gain better insight into who we are now and how we got here.

High school reunions can also be fun. It can be a time to go down “memory lane.” That is, to reminiscence about people we knew as well as our mutual history in such things as music and historical events. In fact, renewing old friendships and reliving the fun and feelings we had in high school are two of the most common reasons people attend their high school reunions (Lamb & Reeder, 1986).

Family reunions are another type of reunion that can be psychologically and educationally fulfilling:

  • They bring together relatives who have never met (e.g., new members of the family, newborns) and demonstrate the extensiveness of one’s sphere of relatives.
  • They encourage communication among extended family members after the reunion period.
  • They provide educational opportunities for the various generations to learn about the members of their clan and pass on historical information.
  • They celebrate the meaning of family by sharing memories and family rituals as well as encouraging a sense of belonging to something greater than your nuclear family.

A third type of reunion is one where long-time friends physically get together and reconnect. Although we live in a multi-mode communication (e.g., emails, “face-time,” telephone calls, social media, texts) era, there is no substitute for the physical presence and an extended period to spend together. The opportunity to engage in conversations that are not time restricted encourage deeper communication. Even mundane activities, like going for a walk or taking a long drive, can stimulate the friends to reminisce or discuss their feelings and thoughts beyond a superficial level.

Reunions with old friends inevitably bring up people and issues of our past. Such friends may recall memories of us, our family members, and other people we knew, as well as events that happened to us. A reunion with friends is different than high school or family reunions. This reunion involves friends who have known us for a long time and have seen us through an entirely different lens than that used by our former classmates or relatives. The perspective of long-time friends can be very enlightening. It may not only reveal information about us and how we have changed, but also similar information about our friends. Discussing and knowing this can lead to greater intimacy and respect for one another. 

Reunions of any kind are not always easy to arrange because of the cost and managing the details. In order to increase attendance:

  • Keep costs low to accommodate most people’s budget.
  • Encourage people to submit ideas and preferences for activities.
  • Look for convenient places and times where as many people as possible can attend.
  • Devote most of the time to activities that promote connection among the attendees; especially, those that focus on sharing old and making new memories.
  • Attend with the plan to not re-hash unpleasant events or topics.
  • Seek out people you like and care about.

Generally, reunions can be highly valuable to our well-being. For those who want to learn more about themselves and make stronger connections with others, reunions can be a powerful vehicle for accomplishing this.

References

Kluin, J. Y., & Lehto, X. Y. (2012). Measuring family reunion travel motivations. Annals of Tourism Research, 39, 820-841. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2011.09.008

Lamb, D. H., & Reeder, G. D. (1986, June). Reliving golden days. Psychology Today, 22-26, 30.

McCutcheon, L. E., Pope, T. J., Grant, R., & Simplis, K. (2016). Does savoring predict attendance at high school reunions and the tendency to admire celebrities? North American Journal of Psychology, 18, 295-306.

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