Class Reunions

Reunions are a time for reconnecting and reminiscing. This article from May 1988 has some interesting stories reflecting the difficulties of going to school during the Great Depression.

 

Reunions Gives us Pause for Reflection

 

In the months of May and June school reunions blossom everywhere as thick as dandelions in a bluegrass lawn. Everyone you meet has just got back from a reunion or is preparing to go to one.

Planning to attend a school reunion is a big part of the fun. Months ahead of time weight- loss diets are reactivated. (Who wants to look as if they had spent the years since graduation in a rate-of-gain contest?) Stylish clothes are purchased. A new car is bought or the old one polished up. As the time to leave grows near, an appointment is made for a complete rejuvenation at a beauty shop. No effort is too great to achieve the successful alumni look. Everyone tries to put his best foot forward for the big event.

What is behind this current infatuation with reunions? For one thing, reunions serve as markers or milestones in our lives. They also bring back memories of what used to be. They let us reach out again and touch once more those who were a vital part of our lives in long- gone school days.

Looking at reunions from a practical viewpoint, modern transportation has made it easier for more people to return to their old stomping grounds. The more out-of-town alumni that get back, the more fun is had in sharing memories.

The act of remembering the past together has a therapeutic effect. Memory casts a haze over the bad times of our school years.

We fondly recall the teachers who inspired us to go out and meet the world head on and forget the ones who bored us stiff with their long lectures and corny jokes.

We remember the school musicals and plays, the athletic victories, the happy times with our friends.

We forget the long hours spent trying to understand geometry, the agony of not having the right clothes to wear, the anguish of not being invited to a special party,

At reunions we greet old classmates we haven’t seen since graduation with so much warmth and affection we surprise ourselves at the depth of our feelings. We forgive old enemies and can’t even remember what caused our hostility in the first place. We feel a deep comradeship with all who shared our youth.

We cherish each moment and wish the euphoria of the day would last forever. Joy is in the air, waiting to be inhaled and savored to the last breath. The halcyon days of youth are recalled, the long ago events that, in retrospect, seem to have happened yesterday.

Reunions also give us a chance to take inventory of our own lives and secretly compare our accomplishments with those of our classmates. Reunions provide us with an opportunity to brag about our children and grandchildren. Modesty requires us to play down our own career achievements and not to ever, ever, mention the size of our bank account. But we are free to talk about the younger members of our families and list their achievements with quiet pride.

Two weeks ago I went to the reunion of the College of Emporia and Emporia State University students who had graduated before 1943. At a small luncheon on the last day, the alumni present were asked to tell what we had done in the years since we had stood in line, hearts beating fast under our long black robes, to receive our degree.

The men almost always began the summary of their lives with a remembrance of an athletic event or a dormitory prank, progressed on to tell of their careers in the business and professional world (not a failure among them) and finally mentioned their wives and children. The women told first of our children and husbands and then got around to our careers.

Since everyone there had lived through the Great Depression, the talk kept returning to the many economies we had practiced while getting our education.

“In my senior year I walked three miles every afternoon regardless of the weather,” one classmate recalled, “to do my practice teaching at Lowther Junior High School away down on 6th Street. A city bus ran right by the college to downtown, but the fare was a nickel and I didn’t have one to spare on such frivolity. In those days nickels were as scarce as a million dollar winning number in a lottery is today.”

We topped each other in telling stories of hard times and low wages. The winner was the man who told this story.

“When I graduated from high school,” he said, “the college offered me a working scholarship and the opportunity to play football. I did campus maintenance work (an euphemism for mowing lawns and shoveling snow) and got 25 cents an hour. Good wages for the times. Only the college kept 20 cents to apply on my tuition bill and paid me five cents an hour. On the football field I played my heart out for the dear old college. Then after I graduated the authorities refused to release my transcript until I paid the $200 they said I still owed them. I took a job on a railroad gang and labored through all the long hot summer to get the $200. I had the satisfaction of walking into the treasurer’s office and paying off the debt in one- dollar bills and walking out again with the transcript in my hand.”

Yes, school and class reunions are a time for renewal of old friendships, for recollections of past moments of glory and defeat, for sober reflections on the fleetingness of all things in life, and for staunch resolutions to make the most of the time left to us on this old planet, Earth. Long may they flourish.

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