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  • Writer's pictureWill Boddy

An updated "COVID-SAFE" Approach to the Daunting Social Interaction That is “A High School Reunion"

Regardless of who you are, there comes a time in your life when the intersection between the person you are now, and that individual you grew out of and left behind, collide. As a student, whether you spent time hanging out in the library expanding your knowledge or you preyed upon those weaker than yourself, ridiculing them for your own amusement, everyone’s high school experience is different – but we all endured it, nonetheless. So, when a reunion is inevitably called, how on earth does one approach the unnerving social scenario – during a global pandemic as well – and how the hell do we make ourselves seem significantly more together than we really are?

The term “High School Reunion” is enough to make any successful business CEO or even law enforcement agent quake in their boots. It’s not the kind of phrase that is thrown around lightly, but at some point in time, one of those bright sparks from high school will put into motion an evening that brings together a mix of people you thought you’d forgotten, mixed with the people you probably see quite regularly.

They tend to eventuate in either 10, 20- or 30-year reunions – some even greater than that – but it’s the 10-year ones you end up wondering “how much have I actually changed in such a short period of time?” The further you extend the years, your career probably gets in the way, and you end up either question the real purpose of the event and maybe even looking forward to meeting prospective retirees.

In saying all this, my own 10-year reunion has inevitably come to fruition, and to be honest, I’m nervous as hell! It’s literally in the coming weeks.

The biggest issue universally – especially between millennials – is what to wear and how to prepare yourself in a way that makes you seem like you aren’t one of the biggest underachievers at the event. For some, it may be an embarrassing time to bump into an ex-lover, catch up and then happily go back to not seeing each other ever again. While for others, how best to integrate your partner/spouse into the mix is also an intimidating feat; regardless, it may lead to a lot of awkward conversations later on.

In my opinion, the most rational and humane way to approach a high school reunion is to tell yourself: “How bad could it really be? Everyone else is just as nervous and shitting themselves the same as I am. What’s the worst that could happen?”

And the worst actually did happen, right. A global pandemic came along and ruined the year 2020 for a vast majority of businesses and individuals alike and caused major shutdowns to a sizeable portion of industries that relied on groups and social interactions – like a high school reunion, for example.

Amongst the social scene, pubs, clubs, restaurants and music venues all bore the brunt of closures in that early-to-middle portion of the year. We as patrons were almost forced to drink, eat and dance our sorrows away in the confines of our own homes. Zoom catch-ups, board games and iso-inspired entertainment were the new normal, and, let’s be honest, the prospect of physically hanging out with friends – let alone those from your distant past – was a forfeited luxury.

So how are we supposed to approach a reunion now? Starting now, events such as this one will look so very different to all of those that have come before. Social distancing is supposed to be adhered to, venues now have strict capacities, you have to drink sitting down, and, most frustrating of all, you’re not allowed to get up and have a boogie…

The People You Meet

Kicking it right off, there’s no doubt about it, there are/were some peculiar people throughout high school. There’s always that typical assortment of groups like the nerds, the sporty jocks, bogans, perfectionists, goth/punks and even that weird guy that would always follow the teachers around like a mis-imprinted duckling. It’s easy to look back over the years and make pretty clear assumptions on who belonged to which group, and most importantly, which one you fell into.

A high school reunion itself is essentially a giant crockpot of all those raw and under-seasoned personalities, coming to a gentle simmer and stewing into the final course that is our adult selves.

Look at it this way: the cohort that you shared the majority of your adolescent schooling life with helped form a special bond, and there are certainly some people who stuck around – those who you stayed in close contact with – and others who merely slipped by the wayside due to differing college interests.

It’s weird how the world works and how we mature over the years. How those people who faded away somehow turn up out of the blue at either the same University you now attend, serving them at your local hospo joint, while shopping at the supermarket, or trampling them in mixed social soccer. Both them and yourself have changed significantly, and it’s incredibly fascinating how one evening can facilitate a brief catch up to see how kindly ol’ father time has been to these people.

And so, this transition from schooling life to full-blown adulthood is probably just a glimpse into how fucked up high school really is. I mean with popular Netflix shows like 13 Reasons Why and Sex Education, teenagers are brutal beings! These groups we associated ourselves with during high school really don’t apply too much the older we get.

10, maybe 20 years down the track, those psycho girls from your English class who refused to pay attention are now fully qualified nurses who drive Suzuki Swifts. Old mate who sat in maths class and barely seemed to do any work – while at the same time belittling the teacher for her lack of knowledge – now runs his own electrical contracting business. And even that intimidating dude who always stole your pen and had absolutely no regard for school rules now has a small family and cares about something other than himself.

Then I look back on myself; kinda outlandish, liked playing sport and being the centre of attention. Genuinely tried in some of the classes I enjoyed but had no real plan for the future. Basically, living in the moment, making one entertaining assembly speech at a time. Now look at me; a struggling uni student, staring down the barrel of 30 and still utterly confused about what I want from life.

And that’s why I think these reunions are so remarkable!

I mean yeah, you can see the majority of the people you went to high school with on social media pretty easily. Checking out what they’ve made (or haven’t) of their lives, probably compare yourself to them while you’re going, and it makes you feel pretty good inside. Or, equally just as shitty.

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So yes, its bloody well scary when one evening rolls around when you have to divulge all your personal information to a bunch of people who are also either flailing about with their lives, or have it all together, and – just like in high school – still look down upon you.

Take it in your stride. Be the bigger person. Embrace the change – or lack thereof – in yourself and probably in others. Enjoy the little trip down nostalgia lane and get out and meet some of these people who helped make up some of the best years of your young teenage life.

Also, when you inevitably get baled up and are struggling to find common ground with someone, it’s always easiest to default to chatting about work or family, hobbies or how fucking gnarly your life is, but one positive to come out of this pandemic is the myriad of conversation starters and topics.

I mean if you find your conversation petering out, maybe you’re revealing too much of your own dark and twisted humour, or someone’s complaining to you about how their kid has just begun shitting in the dishwasher, just steer the chat into COVID territory and compare lockdown stories. Alternatively, just complain about how poorly the local government has handled the whole thing.

Everyone’s got a different story to tell. Some people went to work, some tentatively sent their kids off to school, battling through some really uncertain times, all while a select few were getting paid to sit around and do absolutely nothing. I say engage with others on these differences. Compare lockdown behaviours. Laugh and embrace the opportunity that at least some kind of get together has been arranged and is actually taking place – regardless of all these restrictions.

And, most of all, some people may be hurting or even feeling the anxieties of getting back out into a social setting; not everyone is so itchy to sink piss and reminisce about the good old days. Time may heal wounds, but this pandemic has exacerbated people’s caution and also triggered a lot of mental health issues. Be cautious, yeah.

The Preparation Phase

Enough about the whole reunion backstory, feeling sorry for your own life choices and how a global pandemic has changed every facet of this earth, it all equates to nothing if your preparation isn’t on point and you don’t a) look absolutely fire and/or b) come off as seeming as highly successful as possible. At least that’s what the internet has decided how you should present yourself at a high school reunion.

The chosen venue has a considerable influence on what kind of outfits people will be wearing. And let’s just completely rule out arriving in your average jeans and t-shirt/casual get up, because, essentially, this is a special occasion after all – and a little effort won’t go unnoticed.

If you are true to yourself, however, and absolutely feel comfortable in whatever you decide to wear, then I have the utmost appreciation for you. Being confident and giving absolutely zero fucks is what all of us should strive for, but don’t get me wrong, personally, when it comes to this reunion, I’m going to have that “fake it till ya make it” attitude oozing off of me.

I attended my wife’s school reunion, and I said to someone “you look like Helen Green”. Disgusted, she replied, “you don’t look great in that outfit either”.

Where a lot of men wear their pinstripe suits to say the races or some corporate event like that, I really don’t see why a modernised Peaky Blinders style wouldn’t be the way to go. I figure it’s all about coming off as professional as possible, when in reality I still live at home with my parents, having completed a Master’s degree in a somewhat dying industry.

For women who enjoy dressing up, look, I don’t get out much, nor do I really socialise in the real world, and I don’t want to offend, but I see there are two ways you could approach this: cute flowing dress similar to the one you wore at your best friend recent wedding, what with all the makeup and hair done. Or, just go full-on slut mode, complete with the short skirt/dress, sequences, that kind of thing. You know the one. It’s in the very back of your closet somewhere.

Or, just find the middle ground, I admit I have no idea.

But, all throughout lockdown and the subsequent months that have followed, online shopping has absolutely taken off. There’s an industry that’s flourished this year, and if you’re like that massive portion of people who were stuck at home with nothing much else to do, your online transactions have probably been through the roof.

What better time to bust out the clothes/dress/suit you bought online months ago in hopes of going out with friends for a mid-year catch up; it’s the one that has gathered so much dust at the back of your wardrobe it deserves a place in a museum. Put those iso purchases to good use. Flaunt it.

As it’s alluded to in pop culture, turning up at a high school reunion requires you to essentially act your way through the evening; “Yes I invested well in Bitcoin before it took off”, “My first property is finally listed and looks to fetch upwards of three times the market value”, “My children Tobias and Anastasia have just been accepted into the most prestigious school in the state”.

But what if you can’t act? What if you need a little bit of extra confidence to make it through the evening? What proportion of alcohol is a responsible amount to function at one of these events?

Yes, it’s a difficult question and one that I’ve pondered for many months in the leadup to this reunion. I don’t know the appropriate level of intoxication for an occasion such as this one – normally I just get far too wasted, dance on my own like a Tyrannosaurus Rex with cerebral palsy (my mother’s words, not mine) and find out the next morning I took my clothes off. AGAIN!

Adults can appreciate a few alcoholic beverages, and there will inevitably be that one person who appreciates a few too many. Again, the high school reunion is a chance to get together with those people who you’d probably forgotten even existed, and to connect once more. And in this day and age, many social situations that require human interaction are made more tolerable with alcohol.

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Additionally, there is bound to be that one person whose dad or best made “dealt” a little bit during high school, so, regardless of whether they took over the business or not, it’s quite possible the opportunity to score a little bit of “gear” may present itself. Thus, a few cheeky nose beers wouldn’t go astray to lighten the mood – maybe even the opportunity to finally see the old head prefect off his chops…

Once the nerves and the charade have faded and everyone has begun to feel comfortable being back together again, the conversation is well and truly flowing and your feet are itching for a little dance session, without a doubt, the venue staff will start to say it’s time to get out. What’s the next move? Where are kick ons?

Clubbing would be about right, wouldn’t it? But, at the age you are and the financial vice you find yourself in, going home to an empty bed, still charged off those Jager Bombs and slightly intrigued about how Sarah – the girl who picked flowers from the school garden and sneakily put them in peoples hair in grade 10 – is now the editor of one the most popular online magazine in the country, you decide to compromise and definitely go clubbing.

Across the world, I mean this prospect is evolving as we speak. A lot of countries are at different stages of allowing dancing, partying and coming back to some kind of normality where going out of a weekend is concerned. Others, not so much.

Where I am – and I’m sure a lot of other people are afflicted by this – you’re not supposed to stand up or mingle while at an establishment when consuming alcohol. It’s just plain barbaric is what it is. I mean it’s all well and good having a few drinks sat at a table, but not to be policed by security or staff for getting up to leave your seat, drink in hand and probably ending up escorted out because you’re breaching protocol.

This is, unfortunately, our reality now. Nightclubs aren’t supposed to allow dancing, you’re obliged to be distanced where you can, and even one of those seedy bars in town that your dodgy mate goes to all the time has a capacity, and won’t let you in NOT because you’re absolutely skunked, but because they’ve reached their COVID capacity.

Obviously, this will probably dictate where the actual event will take place, not to mention what the go is afterwards. It’s that juggle between choosing a super local establishment that you assume will be somewhat lax on the restrictions, venture out into town proper, lining up for hours and barely having a good time, or hoping that one guy that lives on some land and has a fire pot out back offers to host a small intimate gathering. The possibilities are endless.

In saying all this, it’s not every day you get to catch up with those people you once considered your friends, and it is intrinsically enlightening finding out those people you thought would be incredibly successful are just as mediocre as yourself. After a few drinks – or after something stronger – people begin to come out of their shells and have a good time.

Whichever way you choose to approach the evening, just remember, although you’re surrounded by those you gained a valuable education with, there are none of those nosy teachers sticking their beaks into your business or putting a dampener on your good times – let’s get loose!

Love Is All-Around

Now, on a similar scale, your high school reunion can in some way be likened to an office Christmas party or a mid-year event all your single friends have invited you to just so you don’t feel left out. I’m insinuating the decision of whether or not to bring your partner along for the ride.

Love is love. It comes in all forms, and regardless of your own relationship status, it shouldn’t matter who someone is dating. If your very best friend from primary school is still in a relationship with the person they fell in love with in high school, so be it. If that Tyson bloke from a couple of your classes in Grade 9 now keeps putting up copious amounts of pictures of his relationship with Miss Southerland, the assistant principal from ten years ago – while also being incredibly creepy – again, so be it.

If you are in a relationship, I feel like the biggest decision you have to make on the eve of your high school reunion is: “Do I bring my partner? And, if so, how much information do I want to divulge before you get there and they find out how much of a party animal/weirdo/nerd/power slut/recusant you really were back in your hay day?”

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If and when you choose to bring along your significant other, if you haven’t been 100% honest with them throughout your relationship, I guess you need to prepare for this. As stated above, the event is similar to a giant melting pot of past emotions, mixed with alcohol and drugs, which could inevitably lead to some incriminating things being leaked with or without your knowledge.

I’ve made it clear that I, personally, have yet to experience a high school reunion, and if I was so lucky to possess a relationship as strong as the ones that manifest themselves in our late 20’s, I feel like bringing a loved one to an event such as this one could go down two alternate routes; they come, have a great time, and strangely enough, everyone keeps quiet about the shenanigans you got up to. While on the flip side, standing around, aimlessly talking to random strangers, desperately trying to find things to talk about may result in a decent amount of information being revealed about yourself.

It’s a thin line, and only those in that situation can decide the best way to tackle it. If anything, it will provide a fair few new things to laugh about when you get home.

When it comes down to it, the only real embarrassing thing about bringing your partner along to a reunion is meeting one of your old boyfriend/girlfriends. If you strain your memory back, it’s pretty easy to single out the significant romantic relationships that blossomed throughout high school, and it becomes interesting to find out how their relationships stood the test of time following high school graduation and the difficulties of separation that college and future ambitions entail.

In the US, statistics from a site called Brandon Gaille Small Business & Marketing Advice suggest that high school sweethearts who get married while they are still in their early adult years only have a 54% chance of making their relationship last more than 10 years. Additionally, if you meet your partner in high school, but wait and get married at the age of 25 (when I feel you are significantly more mature), the 10-year success rate increases out to 78%.

There was a pretty colloquial phrase that my mum used to throw around when I was younger and it kind of supports both of these statistics. It seemed like an old wives’ tale at the time, but she said something along the lines of there being around a 60% chance you’d meet your future spouse in high school, and that was regardless of the age you actually get married. Kind of like you either stay together forever or miraculously ride the carousel of life, ending up back to where you started to realise what you’d missed out on.

While it is still highly unlikely I’ll find someone to bring to many of my successful cousins and/or siblings weddings any time soon, I am still incredibly hopeful that what mum preached to me many, many years ago still rings true. Who knows, maybe the stars will align, and some of the people I attended high school with, also had highly philosophical parents.

Even listening to experts and what reports mention about community transmission and the rates at which this virus can spread after someone comes in contact with an infectious person, I don’t think COVID will get in the way of the possibility of a rekindled high school relationship.

Obviously, events like this one, sporting finals, weddings and even bingo down at the local RSL can go ahead because local officials deem them safe enough, and after significant periods of isolation, group events and gatherings can and should be integrated back into normal everyday life.

There was a time there where kissing and holding hands was basically outlawed at the pubs and clubs, that’s let alone actually being able to visit these places, and while I think I’ll probably be as useless at romance now as I was 10 years ago, the prospect of possibly finding someone that connects with the person I am now – all things COVID considered – would be just terrific.

Embrace the Evening

The very concept of a high school reunion can be daunting. There is a large proportion of people who are invited to attend their own reunions who simply refuse to go and don’t give the event any second thoughts.

While this is absolutely understandable and may stem from your own fears of social interactions, embarrassed by who you were during that period of time and can’t stand to be ridiculed by the same crowd of people again, concurrent career commitments, or anything in between, there are so many others dreading the evening as well.

The high school years helped shape who we are now, and whether you thought they were the worst years of your life, take a second, look back on how far you’ve come, and embrace the growth and maturation into who you see in the mirror now.

It’s fun to look into our past and also laugh at what came before. And these reunions provide an avenue to peek back and reminisce on that time Davo – for no real apparent reason – crept up behind one of the teachers and put him out cold with a headlock. In every assembly, just how fucking dull the principal’s speeches were; so detailed and uninspiring. Getting permission to go to the toilet during class and going on an absolute skits mission from one side of the school to the other. Or befriending one of the ICT teachers and being able to stay inside during lunchtime and do something you actually enjoyed, like build robots or play on the computers.

There’s a select few who go to these high school reunions and probably still think and act, as though they’re still in high school.

It doesn’t matter who you are, assembling the gang again and rocking up to the high school reunion, chilling for a couple of hours and chewing the fat with a few people you haven’t seen for decades really doesn’t seem like too much effort.

In a generation where we basically avoid social interactions like the plague, what with UberEATS now removing the process of ordering through a human, to getting weirded out when you have to answer a simple phone call, the evening might be a whole lot of fun.

With the eclectic mix of personalities on offer, paired with the excitement of picking an outfit that reeks success amongst your lesser peers, all the while either introducing your significant other to a potential group of strangers or finally trying it on with your crush from school, high school reunions should be something to look forward to – not feared like bat soup or fried pangolin.

As we’re currently living in these wildly unprecedented times – and will be for quite the many years in the future – your own reunion certainly won’t be as you’d expected it would be prior to 2020; this is attributed to the pandemic which has shaken up a lot of the traditions we all held close.

Some people won’t make the trip because they hate the idea of interacting with people from an unfavourable period of the lives, others physically can’t get there due to border restrictions and/or quarantining, while some just won’t feel safe venturing into the unknown.

Regardless, COVID has turned the world upside down, and if you really were keen, I guess you could be one of those people who dials into the reunion via Zoom and chills in the corner as a face on a computer screen.

Venues may change, delays and postponements are something we’ll all have to get used to, and the city nightlife and socialising scene is a fluid entity. As Doctor Karl would say: “just go with it, man”. People would’ve changed – especially during these lockdown periods – and I say embrace it. Have fun, meet people, make connections, and Christ, don’t TikTok at the event, that shit sucks!

Copyright © Will Boddy 2020

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