When social gets real on Facebook

The internet is a great boon because it enabled me to see photos of the 10th and then the 20th anniversary reunions, posted on a webpage someone set up for Stuy81.com.

By Aditya Sinha (Going Viral)

Published: Wed 28 Sep 2016, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Wed 28 Sep 2016, 2:00 AM

Monday morning I awoke and saw photos on Facebook posted by various classmates who attended our 35th high school reunion. This was Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, New York City, and as part of a true American tradition glorified by Hollywood, the Class of '81 has had several reunion parties - the 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th and now this. I've not been to any as I've lived in India since 1986. They usually happen after the summer, and it's not feasible for me to visit New York just for a reunion. Now that both our daughters are in California, my wife suggested I visit and then swing by for the reunion, but decided that my participation would be limited to Facebook.
The internet is a great boon because it enabled me to see photos of the 10th and then the 20th anniversary reunions, posted on a webpage someone set up for Stuy81.com. I saw perhaps just one photo from the 1991 reunion, featuring several members of our gang (but none of the girls on whom I had a crush). , That 10th anniversary was probably the best attended reunion. With Facebook, there was no odd-sounding webpage, and connectivity became a lot simpler. It probably came a bit late to my particular class's life, since at this weekend's reunion I think just about 10-11 per cent of the class of approximately 800 students attended. Many did not attend because they lived too far away (though I saw one enthusiast fly to New York City from California for the reunion), and some did not attend because they are no more. As in different walks of life, an early death has laid claim to several of my classmates over the years.
This year it was Brian Dorfmann, an acquaintance with whom I had cracked many a dry joke though we were never "fast friends": after high school he ceased to exist. I did not even recognise him in recent photos though there was that uncanny familiarity about his smile. Someone scanned our high school yearbook photos for the Facebook page (my yearbook is somewhere in America), and when I saw Brian's photo from 35 years ago I shouted "of course". We being teens of the Seventies, he kept his black hair middle-parted and down to his nape. He looked like he could have been a member of the NYC punk band, The Ramones; his close friend Freddie Katz might even have been associated with an imitation band. I vividly remember appreciating Brian's wicked sense of humour, but we lived in different boroughs (I was from Queens) and many friends-groups at Stuyvesant formed along how you commuted to school.
Brian passed away earlier this year from post-surgery complications, and a classmate prepared a card for him at the reunion and also provided a link to a Facebook memorial page. There have been other Stuyvesant '81 alumni (and teachers) who have died before their time - due to a drunk-driving incident, due to AIDS, or due to sheer exhaustion of the body. This was the first time though, thanks to Facebook, that saw a memorial photo album. I looked at Brian's photos with his kids, and I spent a long time scrutinising his face in close-ups, trying to locate the person I knew in the yearbook photo. Though his hair was lately short and grey, possibly due to the ravages of time and to the necessities of a working life in the professional world, his eyes still retained a detached, sardonic look. Perhaps one's eyes are the thread of human time.
Other than Brian there were photos of several classmates whom I recognised, including Ginny who I knew since 7th grade since we went to the same intermediate school before joining Stuyvesant along with a handful of others. I used to avoid her because of my cruel teenaged assessment of her looks, even though she sang beautifully, but when I saw her photo from this weekend I wished I had been at the reunion if only to hug her and weep on her shoulder about the irretrievable passage of time. There were others whose faces had wrinkled and hair either greyed or disappeared, and who had gotten a bit thick in the middle, but all of whom had a essential sameness in their faces from our time at Stuyvesant. In an evening all you can spend only a few minutes with each person in attendance, and that is how it was; but for most, it was enough.
The evening ended with promises of a 40th reunion in 2021. I too resolved on Facebook that I would make it to New York for the next reunion, though this is a resolution that I have broken before. Facebook is a motivator (although I don't use it as much as Instagram or Twitter) but who knows, by 2021 Facebook might even have gone the way of Orkut. Whatever social media we then use will still essentially act as the thread that binds our past and present into a coherent personal identity: one of our modern condition's unmistakable boons.
Aditya Sinha is a senior journalist and author based in Delhi

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