I expected my first reunion to provide some foggy recollections of the large brick building I graduated from in 1987 — the school I drifted through like the wind for three years, hardly connecting with anything or anyone for long enough to make a lasting impression. I planned to arrive late, share a few stories with familiar faces, and leave before those with stronger ties closed down the bar with tales more powerful than I could conjure.
My graduating class — the Class of ’87 at Sir Winston Churchill High School in Calgary — was almost 700 people large. After a tumultuous three years at HD Cartwright Junior High, I welcomed the anonymity that a massive high school provided. I didn’t join any of the school’s teams, clubs or after-school programming, in large part because I fell for a girl from a nearby Catholic school — the halls of which became as familiar to me as those of my own school. It’s not that Churchill treated me poorly … he just didn’t imprint me with the kind of memories that I might have expected from three years of school life.
On the advice of my wife, Sheila — who had attended three of her own high school reunions — I changed my plan and arrived just after the event’s 6:00 pm start time. I saw a few vaguely familiar faces — all smiling — and I quickly discovered that every one of my fellow early-birds was eager to talk. So I found common ground with people I hardly knew, and I watched the room fill from a few dozen people to a crowd of well over a hundred. It felt like a pot of popping corn … a familiar face would pop up, then another … then a few more … until I found myself surrounded by faces and names that had etched themselves into my mind more than three decades earlier.
By the time I reluctantly left the reunion at 2:30 am — well after last call — I had relived the entirety of my youth through a lens that was universally brilliant. Old friends separated by time and distance … friends lost to the intensity of youth … girls I had wanted to dance Stairway to Heaven with … people I had helped and people I had treated poorly … all smiling, revelling in the memories we shared, against the backdrop of ’80s music drowned out by a symphony of joy.
I’m sure that countless spectrums which so often divide humanity were represented on Saturday: political views, religion, skin colour, height, weight, gender and sexual identity, income brackets, athletic skills, academic ability and more … but none of that mattered. We were just a bunch of kids from Northwest Calgary who let our curiosity trump our trepidation to attend. A bunch of almost-50-year-olds who came together for one night to reconnect — or connect for the first time — over shared history that no doubt shaped each and every one of us.
Some of my richest connections on Saturday dated back to elementary and junior high school. I was surprised how easily I recognized most people, and how easy it was to hug and laugh with everyone — even those I had hardly known 30+ years ago. As the night rolled on, I became less surprised — and more impressed — by the sense of abundance I felt in the room. Gone were the scarcity and ego that had constricted us in our youth. We were there to celebrate not only our own journeys — for those of us fortunate enough to be there — but also to celebrate one another. There was grief in the room, too, for those who couldn’t join us, but it was enveloped by celebration, with the spirit of an Irish wake. And there was empathy for those who wouldn’t join us, those whose wounds from the cruelty of childhood had not yet healed. But mostly, there was joy.
When I walked “home” from the reunion — to my parents’ house in a nearby community — with one of my dearest friends from junior high school, it was a fitting end to my stroll down memory lane. No false promises had been made — only a few authentic utterings of “we must get together again,” and a sense that in this age of social media, long-lost connections would be maintained in a way that none of us could have imagined back in 1987.
I’m already looking forward to our 40th reunion … or our 35th, as some have suggested. But if that never happens, or if I can’t be there, I will bask in the afterglow of the beautiful moment when a roomful of grown-up kids came together and shared a sense of common ground.