In the October 24, 2018 issue of Atlantic, there was an article by Deborah Copaken titled “What I Learned about Life at My 30th College Reunion,” and the bullet points she listed could well have been applied to the recent Burbank High’s Class of 1968 50th Reunion. (Read the entire article here.)
Even though the author wrote the article in response to a 30th college reunion of Harvard University, see if you don’t agree that these statements could be true for our reunion (with specific details changed, of course):
- No one’s life turned out exactly as anticipated, not even for the most ardent planner.
- Every classmate who became a teacher or doctor seemed happy with the choice of career.
- Many lawyers seemed either unhappy or itching for a change, with the exception of those who became law professors. (See No. 2 above.)
- Nearly every single banker or fund manager wanted to find a way to use accrued wealth to give back (some had concrete plans, some didn’t), and many, at this point, seemed to want to leave Wall Street as soon as possible to take up some sort of art.
- Speaking of art, those who went into it as a career were mostly happy and often successful, but they had all, in some way, struggled financially.
- They say money can’t buy happiness, but in an online survey of our class just prior to the reunion, those of us with more of it self-reported a higher level of happiness than those with less.
- Our strongest desire, in that same pre-reunion class survey—over more sex and more money—was to get more sleep.
- “Burning Down the House,” our class’s favorite song, by the Talking Heads, is still as good and as relevant in 2018 as it was blasting out of our freshman dorms.
- Many of our class’s shyest freshmen have now become our alumni class leaders, helping to organize this reunion and others.
- Those who chose to get divorced seemed happier, post-divorce.
- Those who got an unwanted divorce seemed unhappier, post-divorce.
- Many classmates who are in long-lasting marriages said they experienced a turning point, when their early marriage suddenly transformed into a mature relationship. “I’m doing the best I can!” one classmate told me she said to her husband in the middle of a particularly stressful couples’-therapy session. From that moment on, she said, he understood: Her imperfections were not an insult to him, and her actions were not an extension of him. She was her own person, and her imperfections were what made her her. Sometimes people forget this, in the thick of marriage.
- Nearly all the alumni said they were embarrassed by their younger selves, particularly by how judgmental they used to be.
- We have all become far more generous with our I love you’s. They flew freely at the reunion. We don’t ration them out to only our intimates now, it seems; we have expanded our understanding of what love is, making room for long-lost friends.
- No matter what my classmates grew up to be—a congressman, like Jim Himes; a Tony Award–winning director, like Diane Paulus; an astronaut, like Stephanie Wilson—at the end of the day, most of our conversations at the various parties and panel discussions throughout the weekend centered on a desire for love, comfort, intellectual stimulation, decent leaders, a sustainable environment, friendship, and stability.
- Nearly all the alumni with kids seemed pleased with their decision to have had them. Some without kids had happily chosen that route; others mourned not having them.
- Drinks at a bar you used to go to with your freshman roommate are more fun 30 years later with that same freshman roommate.
- Staying at the house of an old friend, whenever possible, is preferable to spending a night in a hotel. Unless you’re trolling for a new spouse or a one-night stand, as some of my classmates seemed to have been doing, in which case: hotel, hotel, hotel.
- Nearly all the attendees who had spouses had, by the 30th reunion, left theirs at home.
- Most of our knees, hips, and shoulders have taken a beating over time.
- A life spent drinking too much alcohol shows up, 30 years later, on the face.
- For the most part, the women fared much better than the men in the looks department.
- For the most part, the men fared much better than the women—surprise, surprise—in the earning-potential-and-leadership department.
- A lack of affordable child care and paid maternity leave had far-reaching implications for many of our classmates, most of them female: careers derailed, compromises made, money lost.
- When the bell atop Memorial Church tolled 27 times to mark the passing of 27 classmates since graduation, we all understood, on a visceral level, that these tolls will increase exponentially over the next 30 years.
- It is possible to put together a memorial-service chorus of former alumni, none of whom have ever practiced with one another, and make it sound as if they’d been practicing together for weeks. Even while performing a new and original piece by the choral conductor.
- In our early 50s, people seem to feel a pressing need to speak truths and give thanks and kindness to one another before it’s too late to do so. One of my freshman roommates thanked me for something that happened in 1984. A classmate who was heretofore a stranger, but who had read my entry in the red book, our quinquennial alumni report—in which I recounted having taken an Uber Pool to the emergency room—offered to pay for my ambulance next time, even going so far as to yank a large pile of bills out of his pocket. “That’s okay,” I told him, laughing. “I don’t plan to return to the emergency room anytime soon. ”
- Those who’d lost a child had learned a kind of resilience and gratitude that was instructive to all of us. “Don’t grieve over the years she didn’t get to live,” said one of our classmates, at a memorial service for her daughter, Harvard class of 2019, who died last summer. “Rather, feel grateful for the 21 years she was able to shine her light.”
- Those of us who’d experienced the trauma of near death—or who are still facing it—seemed the most elated to be at reunion. “We’re still here!” I said to my friend, who used to run a health company and had a part of the side of his face removed when his cancer, out of nowhere, went haywire. We were giggling, giddy as toddlers, practically bouncing on our toes, unable to stop hugging each other and smiling as we recounted the gruesome particulars of our near misses.
- Love is not all you need, but as one classmate told me, “it definitely helps.”
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Kathy, Thank you for all the emails that you have been so nice to send. It was nice to see them all. I didn’t attend the reunion because even though I went to Burbank High, I was basically a bystander while everyone was experiencing high school. It was get out of bed, go to school, go to work, go to sleep. Every school year since I was about 7 years old. I seemed to have no interaction with anyone, including teachers and friends. I know all the names, and could put all the faces with them, but I did not know any of them really. I was like a ghost student. Maybe four people can remember me in high school. I missed a lot, but then again, everyone else missed out on what I felt, learned, and experienced working, meeting deadlines, and doing great at what I worked at. For the past 45 years, working on jets has not been much of a social profession. Each and every airplane needs a technician’s undivided attention on every task. Apparently, I had trained for my profession since 7th grade. I had friends, but they left me their bicycles, skateboards, cars, motorcycles, etc. to fix, and I fixed all of them. Nobody wanted to watch me fix anything, they just knew I would fix their stuff and I learned things from every repair. Later, when I went through aircraft school, I had an instructor that told us “when you finish this series of classes, you will be able to fix anything at any time for anybody. Try to believe you are fixing everything as if it were yours, and do an outstanding job every time” The onlything I cant fix is relationships. I have limited experience with them and have not been trained in their survival. Thanks again for all the emails John Sengers. “Chris”
Sent from my iPhone
Thank you so much for writing. All of us have had to cope with life in our own way, and some of us have had an easier time than others. Sorry to have missed you at the 50th Reunion — perhaps another time.
First, Kathy, thank you for posting this profound piece, and I can relate to much of it. I also appreciate the candidness with which some of our classmates have portrayed their lives. None of us has lived the “Christmas Letter” life, and the honesty and bravery expressed is impressive. To me that means that we have a lot of actual adults in our class! Chris, I envy you that you followed your calling from an early age. It took me until my mid-thirties to return to the path I should have followed to start: art. After a B.A. in Anthropology and Sociology, and an M.A. in American Studies (considering law school), I finally realized that I needed to be in art, my first love since childhood. So, back to textile design school and lots of freelance struggle. It also took me three broken engagements (I was called the “runaway bride” way too often), before I finally found the right mate and a “sort of” settled life.
As for growing up in Burbank, I wrote a posting about it on my blog called “A Tale of Two Cities.” I look back at Burbank with a lot of nostalgia, but with clear-eyed reality of what it was like for a lot of people. And as Deborah Copaken wrote, in the end, “success” is really about our relationships.