When mapping out your travel plans, consider including a trip to your school reunion. I’m not a gung-ho reunion person, but this year I ventured to my 50th college reunion. And what a delightful time I enjoyed, for many reasons. If you have a reunion coming up and you’re on the fence about whether to attend, read on for inspiration. I learned so much, and the reunion was definitely a highlight of my travels this year.
1. Reacquaint Yourself With The Area
Go a day or two early and explore something fun to do in the area. Sure, you are traveling to your school for the official reunion (unless you still live in the same city). But wherever you are going, you will likely find something of interest to enjoy before the festivities begin. My college is in the foothills of Santa Barbara, a city known as the American Riviera, so it was easy to grab a bike from the hotel and cycle along the coastline. Relaxing in the sun, later walking out on the harbor’s breakwater, and sitting down to a fresh seafood dinner left me feeling like I’d already indulged in a wonderful getaway even before the reunion began. Once the days full of planned activities started, I didn’t feel frustrated because I wished I could play tourist in Santa Barbara. I’d just done that.
2. Once The Reunion Starts, Participate In All The Activities
My Golden Reunion proved to be three amazing, jam-packed days of activities. I took in everything from the welcome time on the lawn to the formal lunches on campus to the banquet at an elegant local restaurant.
One of the most memorable times of the long weekend came when my class marched in commencement with the current graduates. Bagpipes led the procession, and we who graduated 50 years ago wended our way through lines of clapping professors and family and friends. Donning a cap and gown again was so fun (though I did lose my tassel sometime between the class photo and the ceremony). My overwhelming emotion was gratitude that I was able to be there 50 years after my college days. I can still travel to another city, I’m able to walk, and the gift of an education I received all those decades ago has informed my life in more ways than I know.
A few of my classmates told me beforehand that they didn’t want to wear a cap and gown. They didn’t want to process with the young people. They missed much joy, as I see it. The exuberance of all of us who slipped on our caps and black robes to become part of that grand day is something I will always remember. Don’t sit on the sidelines. Throw your hat in the ring (even literally) and go for it!
3. Don’t Let Shyness Keep You From Going
Driving onto campus the first morning, I was definitely feeling a bit apprehensive. Would I remember classmates after 50 years of living life without seeing them? Would anyone talk with me? How should I open a conversation?
As I walked through the rose garden to sign in, all my fears immediately dissipated. Everyone is there to talk to others they haven’t seen for years. A simple hello and a smile are all you need to enter in.
I found that the easiest conversation starter was “Where do you live now?” From there, it’s easy to talk about moving around the country, jobs, family, health, and travel.
I’m guessing many felt as I did, wondering who they would see and if would they remember back through decades to shared experiences. Don’t let fear keep you away.
4. Laugh Plenty But Also Delve Into Serious Discussions
Of course, you and your classmates will enter into lighthearted conversations. You may laugh together as you recall your favorite (or least favorite) professors. You may fondly remember shenanigans you got up to in your youth. But also, be open to deeper discussions.
During the reunion, I talked with classmates about issues with their jobs, the recent loss of a spouse, our classmate who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease, a grown child with a drug addiction, and severe health issues. One friend talked with me about whether or not she should retire. Another wanted to bring her husband with her, but he was too sick to travel.
When you have only a few days with people, you don’t have time to ease into the serious side of life. It worked out well for me to sometimes head right to the heart of people’s worries. If you are compassionate, you will be able to connect in a sensitive way.
5. Volunteer To Help Out And Get Involved
A reunion calls for lots of planning. More than 200 people attended my reunion weekend. Imagine the myriad details involved. While the college administration headed up all of the lunches and meetings and tours, volunteers pitched in to pull it all off. Some helped with food. One friend made a run to a big box store for lasagna. Another lined up a faculty member to gift us dozens of her homemade cookies. People planned a program at the banquet. A fun classmate made up a trivia game of music from our era.
When a friend asked me to sing in the ensemble at the banquet, I jumped at the chance. It turned out not only to be a great musical experience. The real joy was getting in touch with the other singers and working on our music ahead of the performance. As we finally gathered in Santa Barbara, we hugged and greeted each other like old friends because we had been corresponding for weeks already.
Whether you prefer making decorations, lining up people to speak, or contacting restaurants for reservations, contribute to the goal of a first-class reunion. By being invested, you will reap more benefits than you can imagine.
6. Think About Reaching Out To A Classmate Who Is Unable to Attend
When you are decades past your graduation, you will have classmates who are too ill to attend. Think about ways to reach out and send greetings. My class got a frame that has room for signatures and put a photo of the college stone entrance gate in the middle. Then we signed the frame for our long-ago friend who couldn’t make it. People were eager to participate, writing little messages in different-colored ink.
You can also make the effort to take photos of groups of friends and send these to classmates who are stuck at home. My college roommate deals with several health issues and couldn’t attend our reunion. But ever since, we have been writing and I’ve sent her photos of our college gang as we look 50 years on. She’s loving this.
7. Carry The Reunion Reconnections Home With You
Collect phone numbers and emails along the way. I’m amazed at the reconnections I made in a few days. I’ve enjoyed texts, phone calls, and emails in the months since the reunion. One friend invited me to visit her on my way home from a trip. What a fantastic time we had reminiscing and touring the redwood forest together. Another classmate invited me to dinner. We sat on her backyard patio as twinkling lights came on and we chatted for hours.
An occasion such as a 50th college reunion comes once in a lifetime. Take the plunge and go to the reunion. Enjoy it to the fullest. Revitalize precious friendships. Play tourist in the city where you went to school. What a rich, memorable experience this can be!
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