High School and College Reunions

School reunions are a chance for Americans to get together with people they may not have seen in years. Some have not seen each other in half a lifetime. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. We look at high school and college reunions this week on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

Two women were attending a reunion of their high school class. They had not seen each other for more than forty years. Each had married and had children. Each had worked at several jobs. Yet they immediately told each other: "You have not changed at all!"

And they were not alone. Reunions are a chance to go back in time, briefly, to relive days fresh out of school. There are ten-year reunions. Twenty-year reunions. Fifty-year unions. In any given year, thousands of Americans attend a high school or college reunion.

People sometimes go long distances to get to these events. Some pay a lot of money to travel and stay in hotels. Just planning the visit can take time, especially if the person wants to do something special.

Take the example of a woman from Bethesda, Maryland. She graduated many years ago from a high school near Chicago, Illinois.

This summer, she decided to hold a smaller reunion of her own during her high school reunion. She wanted to gather several of her friends in the same hotel so they could talk as they had as teen-agers. The women were from all parts of the country.

Her plan required several long-distance telephone calls and at least forty e-mail messages. But it was worth the time. The women visited the houses where they had lived while in high school. They remembered each other's boyfriends and families. They stayed up late for two nights as they exchanged stories about their lives. It was like they were girls again.


Reunions can be a lot of fun, but also a lot of pressure. Sometimes people feel they must improve their appearance before they go to a reunion. This is true of both men and women. They may try to lose weight. They may change the color of their hair. Or they may buy costly new clothes.

People may feel they have to prove to others how successful they are. Then, if they talk too much about their success, others accuse them of "bragging."

People at reunions often talk about their children and grandchildren. They may talk about them for a long time. Most people who are parents and grandparents also carry pictures. So it is common to overhear former classmates saying things like, "I think that baby looks just like you." Or, "Oh, your granddaughter is beautiful!"

People who attend high school and college reunions sometimes try to make business connections. They try to get former classmates to invest in their companies or buy their products. Some people ask old school friends for a job.

Political candidates are no strangers to high school and college reunions. For example, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut attended Stamford High School in his state. He completed his studies in nineteen-sixty. Since then, he has attended seven of the eight class reunions.

In January of this year, Senator Lieberman chose the school as the place to make an important announcement. He announced his candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination for president in two-thousand-four. Many members of his high school reunion committee took part in the event.

There are all kinds of reunions. Former students organize many of them. People who have planned a reunion say it sometimes requires a year or more of hard work. But, this way, the people give their time to make the preparations. So it can cost less than a reunion organized by a business.

But the former students can also hire a reunion planner. For example, a company called Reunions by Design organizes high school reunions in the eastern states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It searches for members of a high school or college class.

It places news of the coming reunion in newspapers and on the Internet. It mails invitations. It organizes hotel rooms for people who live far from the school. It also prints memory books. These books tell a little something about the lives of the former students, including where they now live and work.

Many different kinds of reunions take place. Some may be formal and cost a lot. This kind usually takes place in a hotel. A big dinner is served. A band or orchestra usually plays.

Other reunions are informal. This kind of party is often held in the high school or college itself. The people who went to school together share a meal. Then they may dance to music just as they did years before.

Reunions can even take place in the home of one of the former students. That is what happened several years ago with the graduating class of nineteen-sixty-nine from Wellesley College. That is a women's school in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

Their classmate Hillary Rodham Clinton held the reunion in the White House while she was first lady. Mrs. Clinton is the wife of former President Bill Clinton. She is now a United States senator from New York.

Many high school and college reunions take place at the same time as an event called homecoming. Schools plan this event to invite their graduates to return for a visit. Homecoming almost always is held in the fall.The schools plan events for the returning graduates. There usually is an important football game or other sports event that former students can attend. And there usually is a party called an open house. Teachers or professors welcome back their former students.

Some activities are the same at all reunions. For example, people usually bring their old high school or college yearbooks. They look back through all the pictures of the people they went to school with. They read over the notes they wrote to each other back then. The usual message is something like, "Good luck. I will think of you in the future." Former classmates at reunions look at the pictures and try to identify people as they look today.

The main program is usually led by one or more speakers from the class. They tell jokes and remember stories about their classmates. They introduce former teachers. They introduce classmates who fell in love with other classmates and got married.

Reunions are also famous as a second chance for love.

The people who organize reunions may show films of when everyone was a teen-ager. If the students were in school a long time ago, they laugh at the clothes they wore.

And there is something else people do at reunions. They almost always sing their school song.

Mental health experts tell us that the high school and college years can be difficult for young people. They may feel they are not bright enough or good enough looking to succeed in life.

A member of the graduating class of a high school in the Midwest made a videotape of some of the students at his class reunion. He asked them to respond to questions like "What do you remember most?"

Those who spoke first said they thought the teachers were excellent. Or they said they learned a lot. Or they fell in love for the first time.

But a woman who became a newspaper reporter in Colorado said she felt very unhappy in high school. She said she felt ugly, and that she would never succeed in life. After that, a number of other people admitted that they also felt that way as teen-agers. They said they were glad that was behind them now.

Retired diplomat Patricia Barnett Brubaker lives in the state of Maryland. She has attended many reunions of her class at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

She and her classmates always marched in a parade during ceremonies at their college reunions. But now they are more than eighty years old. So, at their sixtieth reunion, they rode in a car. Says Mrs. Brubaker: "I just thought it was wonderful that we got there."

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson -- who just got back from her high school reunion, where she was the woman with that small reunion of her own. Our producer was Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.