Anatomy of a 50th High School Reunion

Category: Baby Boomer Retirement Issues

Note: This is a followup to the Reunion Survey and results article we published in 2015. In that poll we found an even split between those looking forward to their 50th reunion, and those who said they either had no plans to attend, or were undecided. Many who said they would not come based their decision on bad memories or a need to move on from those days of old. Here is the link to the original article, Baby Boomers Look Forward to Their 50th Reunions with Optimism and …

— July 26, 2016. Your editor just had the pleasure of experiencing his 50th high school reunion. And, for how he felt about it, he agreed with the 62% in our previous survey who rated their reunion experience as “excellent”. We hope the personal observations in this article will provide some useful input for those of our Members whose reunions are approaching.

How it went
Arriving at the B & B where the Friday night reception was to be held, I was apprehensive. Would I be able to recognize, even remember, all of these people? Fortunately I staved off the desire to retire to my room and open up a book, and ventured forth. Immediately a woman recognized me with a friendly smile, breaking the ice. Other classmates were introduced in quick order, and soon I was having conversations with one old friend after another. Even though I had studied our old yearbook on the plane ride out, some re-introductions were required. Occasionally I met someone who knew who I was, while I awkwardly tried to reconcile their 68 year old appearance with my memory of them as an 18 year old. In other times it was my name and/or face that drew a puzzled look. Many people were instantly recognizable, while others were harder to identify.

The Stats
The weekend featured a Friday reception, breakfast at the B & B for those staying there, and Friday night dinner and DJ. About 80 out of 175 living classmates attended. Most, but not all, of the people that I hoped would attend did so. The vast majority of those present were completely retired. Well over half of the attendees came to the event with spouse or significant other. The latter mostly seemed to be enjoying the events, many having met classmates and/or other spouses along the way or in preceding reunions. About 15% of our class have gone to their eternal reward, including 4 from our class killed in Vietnam. A rough estimate is that somewhere around 50% of our male classmates are veterans; very few, if any, of the women went into the service, reflecting where society was at that time.

Me and some of good looking classmates!

Me and some of my good looking classmates!

Chatting with people went surprisingly easy, even for a normally introverted person. There were several surprises. One was how much joy there was to meet people whom I hadn’t really thought about in decades, and how instant the shared affection was. Another was how easy it was to approach and engage many school mates with whom I had not been close. Topics like favorite teachers, bygone adventures, and the completely different set of life experiences kept conversations lively and upbeat. In contrast to many ordinary get-togethers, there was only the occasional point dragged on a little too long, or a silence begging to be filled.

Bottom line
In my case the decision to attend was an excellent one – the whole experience was fun. There was real joy in meeting up with and reconnecting with old friends, along with shared pathos while remembering our deceased classmates. The only sad note was our wonderment at why some of our favorite chums did not join us in attending. In our opinion, the loss was not only theirs, but ours too.

Comments? Please share any experiences that might help others considering whether or not they should attend their reunions in the Comments section below.

Posted by Admin on July 24th, 2016


  1. I attended my 50th HS reunion last month in Norman, OK and it was a very enjoyable and pleasantly memorable experience. If it wouldn’t have been for some strong encouragement from my lifelong friends and classmates, I wouldn’t have gone–thank you!
    The classmates who organized the event did an exceptional job and obviously spent many hours putting it together.
    The name tags included a graduation yearbook photo in addition to the name, and these were appreciated!
    Here’s a hint for those of you planning to attend your 50th HS reunion: while talking with any classmate at the event never begin a sentence with the phrase “do you remember when” because there’s a 99.9% chance they won’t, and if the scenario was reversed odds are you wouldn’t remember either. Better to open the conversation with something on the order of “I was recently thinking about such and such” and pause to let them comment.
    If you’re on the fence about whether or not to attend your 50th, my recommendation is go for it; there’s a chance you may never see a lot of those classmates again and you don’t want to have that regret to deal with for life. Besides, it’ll be more fun than you might imagine and you’ll reconnect with people you may not have thought about since graduation. Trust me, it’ll be worth the effort.

    by Jim — July 27, 2016

  2. Hi John, I enjoyed reading about your reunion experience. I believe your experience willl encourage others to take a chance and go to their own reunions . Maybe even me but maybe not. Ha ha

    Dianne Murphy

    by Dianne — July 27, 2016

  3. My 50th reunion is in two years and I will not be attending. The first one I attended was the 40th and I am glad I did. I saw people who I recognized and those I did not. I found it fascinating that our class (about 430) seemed to be a microcosm of society in the sense you had gays, singles, married with children, married without children, divorced folks, a variety of occupations and those no longer with us who died from almost everything from suicide to health issues to accidents. People attending were in great shape and not so healthy. I was not part of the ‘popular’ crowd in High. School but had friends and did well academically. One eye opener for me was that what people remembered about me was often very positive and kind and nothing like what I, as a shy introvert at the time, imagined. As adults everyone just seemed much more accepting and not ‘clicky’. Maybe we all grew up. The other somewhat disappointing but also eye opening experience was meeting up again after 40 Years with a woman who had been one of my best friends. She was nice but not at all like my memory of her and I don’t mean her looks. The conversation went nowhere and left me a bit empty. Frankly conversation with others I had been less close to was much easier and more interesting.
    Overall I am very glad I attended as it really was a good experience and I learned a lot about life and people and memories. I especially enjoyed meeting my 6th grade love who was quite nice but nothing like I imagined he would be! If you haven’t seen people in 40 or 50 years it can be very interesting and teach you about how experiences change everyone and maybe what you remember is tainted with the viewpoint of youth. After my renunion I came away glad I decided to attend but ambivalent about ever going again.
    Well, it was fun reading John’s experience and brought back these memories! ?

    by Mejask — July 27, 2016

  4. John, what a great article you wrote and posted! For me, I looked forward to this 50th celebration gathering! It was an absolute treat to see everyone and chitty chat! I thought everyone looked pretty darn good for the time span. It was especially fun to catch up at Hillhurst which many of the SJA group stayed. I treasure the memories of the then and now and I wouldn’t have missed it! We were a great group! Thanks!

    by Diana Hauf — July 27, 2016

  5. My husband,Ron, attended his 50th reunion in 10/15. He was President of his class in 9th through 12th grade. He was in the hospital at the time, and I was able to obtain permission to take him to the reunion by ambulance! He had a WONDERFUL time and he passed away on July 16, 2016. I am soooooo glad he went! He was in a wheelchair due to weakness, and was all around the room visiting with classmates, and very energized.

    Don’t think about it-GO TO YOUR REUNION!?

    by Cindy Head — July 28, 2016

  6. My high school in Belleville Illinois had over 800 graduates in ’66 when I got my diploma. I found out there were less than a dozen people who were signed up to go to the 50th class reunion earlier this year. I live in the VA suburbs of DC so it would have been 800+ miles of driving one way, or a plane trip/rental car, etc. That was an easy decision. I wouldn’t have attended if I lived across the street from that place. It was a rotten period of my life and I had no intention of resurrecting it.

    by Gary Knoke — July 28, 2016

  7. Gary Knoke, I understand completely. I went to the first 10 year reunion and it was just like High School again. The same people sat with their HS friends and didn’t mingle much. I know one woman who has gone to all of them and she has SO much fun but I am sure she only hangs out with her original HS friends. She kept pressuring me to go to the 40th reunion and I said nope! I have no interest. HS wasn’t the happiest years of my life either. I still live in the same town as the reunions but will not attend any future ones. Glad for those who do enjoy them.

    by Louise — July 29, 2016

  8. The decision whether or not to attend a 50th high school reunion is a very personal one, and not an easy thing to do. For me, the first step I always take before every reunion opportunity (college and high school) is try to be precise about just what I want to take away from the event. Every time it has come down to wanting to see some specific people or to do/visit an old favorite venue of mine. And every time I have come away pleased with my decision to attend, and since I live in California and all my reunions are on the East Coast, time and costs are important considerations.
    I know that if I had gone to my 50th HS reunion last year just to see if all the unpleasant memories of high school, and the people behind them, had changed for the better, I would have been totally disappointed. The cliques and the cool kids hadn’t changed; they ran the reunion just as they ran four years of high school. Even the answers to the group memory games played during the reunion were rooted in what the cool ten percent had experienced, leaving everyone else out in the cold. But, it didn’t matter to me as I was able to spend time with the people that I cared about and came away with wonderful and new memories of them. I am glad I went.

    by Shelby — July 31, 2016

  9. I have not attended one high school reunion since I graduated in 1973. I have no long term friends from those days that I would have any connection with. College was a more positive experience for me and I would be more likely to reunite with my friends from nursing school…which we do in some years. High school can be a time when we are trying to desperately to overcome the awkwardness of our teenage years–not everyone is/was beautiful or socially graceful during those years. I do not care to relive them. My parents however did attend their 50th and 60th High School anniversaries in Indianapolis and they had fun–both were the “cool kids” in their class. Ah well…

    by Jennifer — August 1, 2016

  10. This comment came in from Lou Ann, one of your Editor’s classmates. It is especially interesting because it was a Facebook post, before the reunion. PS – She loved the actual reunion:

    This is what I posted on FB shortly before the reunion. We grew up in an awesome era!

    In a couple of weeks, I will celebrate my 50th class reunion. How surreal it will be to see people I haven’t seen since we appeared in our cap and grown at graduation. Some have passed and some won’t attend but whether 5 or 50 are there, it will be a great celebration.
    WE were the lucky ones growing up in the 60’s. We had no cell phones or answering machines. We spent time at each other’s houses. There were no Itunes or Pandora; we treasured our 45’s and played them over and over again on our record players. Photos of Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell and so many more ‘teen idols’ lined my bedroom walls.
    WE had no computers. WE had face-to-face real time friendships. WE had no bullying; kids got along. For most of us, we liked school. Our teachers liked us and there was mutual respect.
    WE played hard—drawing hopscotch on the sidewalk, riding our bikes, going to the movies, roller skating—being extra careful to keep your skate key in a safe place; playing store was fun except when it was time to put away all the groceries we had gotten out of mom’s cupboards. There was always something to do.
    I am so looking forward to this reunion and sharing memories from 50 years ago. In light of what is going on in the world today, it will be so good to spend a couple of days going back in time to when life was simple-when we got along-when we trusted one another and when we appreciated who we were and where we came from.

    by Admin — August 6, 2016

  11. Admin, it is so true that life was different going to high school in the sixties. As I read your post, what occurred to me was how very different our childhoods were from our those of our children and the children growing up today. Unfortunately, I think the big difference is really that most women were not in the workforce, but in the home. I am so glad that own my daughter grew up knowing that she could use her own unique talents in anyway she chooses. I am not sure what the answer is, but as a woman, I hope we never return to those good old days of the 50’s and 60’s.

    by MaryNB — August 7, 2016

  12. Honestly, there is just too much time and distance for me to be interested. Too many years have passed to try to do “catch up” now.

    by Doris — August 7, 2016

  13. Wasn’t exactly where to post, so I thought this blog mght be the right one. I just retired at 65 (hurray!), did my Medicare signups, filed my taxes, reviewed real estate sites to see if there were any new listings in my future retirement destination, and decided to google a few of my old high school, college roommates and old boyfriends to see wher they landed. We all came from small, middle or lower middle class homes. I guess I was hoping that someone might be near my prospective retirement destinaton. I honestly didn’t even spend much time doing this since their names were fairly unique – maybe 5 minutes per person.

    My life was challenging (I cared for spouse with early-onset Alz for 12+ years until he died, raised our kids on my own and got them through college without loans, and worked long hours in a stressful career). I am looking forward to retirement as a chance to catch my breath, make new friends and maybe catch up with old friends. My kids are now professionals who work long hours, and I’ll probably babysit and pet sit for them. I am not rich, but will have a very workable budget between my 401k, SS and a small paid-off-home.

    Of 6 people I searched, 5 are living in multi-million dollar homes, and apparently have been extraordinarily successful. One has been interviewed on network news several times as an expert, another was a high-level executive for a Fortune 100, and another held an important government position. All are married and fortunate to be able to enjoy retirement with their spouses. (One even popped up in a newspaper article about the romance in her/his marriage and things they are enjoying in retirement.)

    I know, I know. We can’t compare ourselves to others. If I kept googling through my yearbook, I am sure I’ll find many people who are worse off (and 1 of the 6 did appear to have crashed & burned over the last 50 years). I hadn’t realized that googling would make me so depressed. No – I won’t be going to reunions. I have to get over discovering that I am petty enough to compare myself to others, and to be envious when I come up short.

    by Kate — February 14, 2018

  14. (Just to add – you can tell we were the studious, over-achievers in school. I’m sure that skewed the odds LOL).

    by Kate — February 14, 2018

  15. If some of you desire to go to the reunions you should ask yourselves if you were one of the ‘cool kids’ and are trying to relive that time in your life. The jocks had all the girls falling all over them. The cheerleaders dated the jocks. I knew this guy who was probably 3 years ahead of me in high school. He was one of the ‘cool’ kids but not a jock. He had a brand new Mustang, lived on the lake and had use of a brand new speed boat. He had girls fawning all over him for those reasons. After he graduated HS, he never moved on with his life. He will admit those were the best years of his life and never moved on. I think he still has the car and had intended to rebuild it and he didn’t and it doesn’t run. The boat I imagine is long gone but he still lives in his mother and father’s house and they are long gone. He still listens to oldie music exclusively. The last time I saw him he was the most depressing person I have ever met. High School was a long time ago and sometimes it is just time to let it go.

    by Louise — February 15, 2018

  16. Kate,
    So you kept a marriage together, successfully delivered your children to a responsible adulthood and planned ahead in order to take care of yourself in retirement.

    I’ve met people like you before…from time to time. Don’t meet them as much as I did when I was younger. My parents pointed them out to me.
    They wanted me to admire those qualities of faithfulness and self responsibilty.
    They wanted me to recognize true success, not fame or money.
    You are very successful Kate, you have an incalculable wealth.

    by C — February 15, 2018

  17. C and Louise – Very thoughtful postings! I’m going to print out this page and use it to talk to my kids at Easter about how they will look at their lives when their own 50-year reunions come around.

    by Kate — February 16, 2018

  18. I have only missed one of my reunions – last one was the 50th. I was not one of the ‘cool’ kids, but an average kid in a school that seemed to me to be one that catered to the ‘cool’ kids. In our reunions the talk is about what everyone is doing (not job positions or salaries), where they live now (location, not house cost or size), how their kids are doing, what they are interested in, etc. It has been fun connecting to the friends I was close to but have lost touch with, , talking to some that I didn’t really know in high school including some of the ‘cool’ kids who aren’t really all that bad after all. We all have in common the times we grew up in, the music, our aging selves, etc. We don’t talk about high school much, but just how we have made it through life. “Cool’ kids have hosted the reunions at their homes because they live on farms and have lots of room. Many still live in the area and many, like myself come back and several of us are still married to our high school sweethearts. Someone came to the 50th for the first time and stood up at dinner to say how sorry she now was that she hadn’t come to any of the previous ones. Ours are never a formal affair so that casual clothes are just fine and if you are still in town the next morning, we meet at a local hangout for brunch for another opportunity to visit. Sadly, of course, our numbers are dwindling and that last reunion might well have been our last.

    by Carol Dugan — February 16, 2018

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