Facebook vs. Face to Face: Why School Reunions Will Endure
The perspective from one writer's 40th
Posted Jul 15, 2011
I am a huge fan of Facebook. But having just attended my 40th high school reunion, I can say to Mindy and others from the "good enough" crowd that Facebook is a poor substitute for the perspective-enhancing experiences you get at a reunion face to face and across a crowded room. They include: the sound of a once-familiar voice calling out to you; the pleasure that comes with recognizing an old crush or teammate after only a moment's hesitation; character in context; and revelations far too intimate to be shared en masse or on a screen.
It's true, when you're young, that reunions tend to be an arena for networking and one-upmanship. (I remember the pressure I felt to posture through my own.) I can also understand why so many alumni are reluctant to pay to spend time with people they never really liked -- people they would never even think of "friending." But, by your 40th reunion, you realize that there's a therapeutic value in hanging out with the people who may have belittled or intimidated you in high school. You see their bad behavior for what it was: a manifestation of their own self-loathing, or a projection of your own worst fears -- and that realization can be liberating.
Probably the most touching story came from a classmate I had barely known in high school. He and his wife were scheduled to fly to Barcelona the next day for the fifth time in five years. Because of a chronic health problem, they had had to cancel their previous four trips. I prayed that they would make it this time, and found their Sisyphean hope in the face of adversity inspiring.
Had I stayed home and been content to connect with those few classmates who were my friends on Facebook, I never would have seen how the furious networking of our twenties turns into genuine tenderness as we age: All weekend I noticed how much we hugged each other, and how gently. The arm-hitting, back-slapping, high-five physicality of previous reunions was gone.
Of course nearly half of the 70 students in our class didn't make it -- they were either too busy or too ambivalent about their school years to attend. At the closing dinner, the guard on the football team expressed the sentiment lingering in the back of many of our minds. "Please raise your glass to the three members of the Class of 1971 who have died," he said. "I really miss those guys."
Of course, five and ten years from now, at our next reunions, the list of those to whom we raise a glass will be longer. We may hear about their passing through Facebook. But face to face, in a community of classmates who are part of each other's lives and personal narratives, something deeper happens: you are forced to acknowledge the precious brevity of your life -- of life itself -- which moves you to feel grateful for your blessings and to make the most of what remains.
Click here to read "To Go or Not to Go: Is Your School Reunion Worth the Worry?", the post Kravitz wrote in anticipation of attending his 40th high school reunion.
Lee Kravitz is the author of UNFINISHED BUSINESS: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things (Bloomsbury), now available in paperback, with a new foreword by Gail Sheehy, the author of PASSAGES, and Lee's step-by-step guide for addressing your own unfinished emotional business.