Back to school - for a day

Back to school - for a day

Save the date: it's time for the class reunion. But the question is: would you go? While some swear they've no desire to catch up with former classmates, others can't wait to 'hear the school bell' again. We find out why the jury is out when it comes to reunion RSVPs



by

Karen Ann Monsy

Published: Thu 10 Jan 2019, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Fri 11 Jan 2019, 11:44 AM

Reunions come in all shapes and sizes - ones with family, friends, colleagues - but there's something to be said for high school and university reunions. Even Hollywood knows that, given the spate of movies it's churned out on the subject - with three in 1986 alone. It's the time in your life when you're still trying to find yourself, a time when you really crave the approval and validation of those around you. How those formative years go down will pretty much decide whether you look back, decades later, with eager fondness or downright aversion. It's why the vote is always split down the middle when those alumni gathering invites roll out. To go or not to go: that is the question.
Well, actually, that is only the beginning of a horde of questions. From past achievements to future plans - and even the occasional identity confusion ("I'm so sorry, were we really in the same batch?") - you can expect the third degree. not to mention, a certain pressure to 'prove' yourself. Ralph Keyes may have written his book Is There Life After High School? in the 70s - but his observation about who attends these gatherings still holds water today. It's not all nostalgia - it's competition too. "Typically, most high school reunions attract people who feel they didn't do well enough in high school academically or socially," he wrote. "So they look forward to going back to show off and to see how poorly others have done.'"
There is a kind of morbid pleasure derived from measuring ourselves up against others, years after we've left our school's hallowed halls. And sometimes, the things we discover about how far others have come can stagger us (think Dwayne Johnson's character Robbie Weirdicht in Central Intelligence who went from superbly obese to an incredibly ripped, gun-toting CIA agent). It's enough to make anyone think twice.

John Pine, director of alumni relations, NYUAD
Gain perspective, not pressure
If anyone understands the "fear and misgivings" that invitations to alumni events usually herald, it's John Pine. Says the director of alumni relations at New York University Abu Dhabi, "People often ask, 'Why is it something I should be interested in?'. Well, people usually sign up for a few years of college, but we look at it as a relationship for life. Alumni events are opportunities to stay connected with not only the university, but also each other. They give you a chance to reconnect with friends, find out what the university is doing, and share your own success story."
The flip side of the coin is that maybe - just maybe - these meet-ups could be the beginning of a new success story for you too. "I've seen so many people who never met each other while they were students, but connected at one of these events - and then went on to either be business partners or date, marry and have kids!" It's a life lesson in stepping out of your comfort zone, perhaps - but John underscores that it's important to give these events a shot, at least once... because you never know how your life could change.
Though he admits the popularity of alumni events has waned over the last 5-10 years, he also has a theory for why. "Before social media, you didn't know what was happening in people's lives," he points out. "You didn't see their kids' pictures on Facebook, so the opportunity to go to a reunion was much more enticing. You wanted to revisit that 'part' of your life... But now a lot of people don't feel like they have to go because they already know what's going on in everyone's lives."
From an organiser's perspective, events of this nature naturally come with their own challenges. "The biggest one is that people live all over the world and travel is expensive," he says. "It's also hard to find a time frame that works best for everyone." Traditionally, in the US - where he spent most of his career before coming to Dubai - reunions tend to fall in early summer or October. "We call them homecoming timeframes." There is no such 'auspicious' time in the UAE, but John does have tips for hosting a successful reunion (see box on left) and even recommends reaching out to your alma mater - simply because they'd have the resources to help you get the word out.

REUNITED: Sundus Tanveer (far left) with her childhood friends, some of whom she's known since primary school
Memories, therapy and more
Taking a tour through Nostalgia City doesn't always have to come with an official invite from your alma mater though. For a lot of folks, maybe all you need is a small clique of good friends. Dubai-based Sundus Tanveer tells of a really close circle of about 10 former classmates she's still in touch with today - even though the days when they used to make a right ruckus in class were almost 15 years ago. The group connects over social media every now and then, but with members being spread out across India, Hong Kong and various emirates of the UAE - not to mention, the hassle of coordinating everyone's professional, marital and parenting commitments - getting together for a meet-up isn't always practical.
"Our plans are usually very spontaneous - and may or may not happen. But, this year, we decided to book a hotel in Abu Dhabi for a weekend staycation - the package was non-refundable, so we knew we had to make it work!" laughs the 31-year-old. "We just hit the pool and talked and talked. and talked." It helped massively that their families were so supportive, offering to take care of the kids, so the group could catch a much-needed break. "It was like a therapy session," says Sundus. "Everyone in the group is at different phases of their lives: unmarried, newly married, coping with motherhood or struggles at work. The good thing is that we're all so different from each other, that the range of solutions and ideas we end up with is just as diverse."
Has the group changed in any way? "We've matured," she muses. "We can still be silly with each other, which is great - but we're also more sensitive to things now. Not everything we made fun of in school is funny anymore... It's great to see how we've grown to be better people - but can also count on the same hilarious quirks that brought us together in the first place."

MORE THE MERRIER: Zankhana Bavishi (bottom centre) celebrated New Year's Eve with a school reunion bash
Make it unique
When you think of a New Year's Eve bash, counting down to the next year with a school reunion is hardly an option in most people's minds. Not for 25-year-old Zankhana Bavishi. The Indian has been living in Toronto for the last 11 years, but arranged to meet her school friends from the Middle East for the first time in a decade on December 31, 2018, in Bangalore. "My original reason for visiting Bangalore was to attend a wedding. I texted a few school friends [I knew would be in town] to ask if they'd be available to meet on that day. The majority confirmed, so though the wedding eventually didn't happen, I decided to retain the plan just so I could celebrate New Year's Eve with my childhood friends."
The group of 11 youngsters organised a house party, ordering in food. One of them even got other classmates who weren't able to attend to send in videos about where they were at the moment and what they were up to. And when the clock finally struck 12, the group burned two sky lanterns to ring in the turn of a new year.
Says Zankhana, "I couldn't have asked for a better New Year's Eve. Kamran, my friend since Grade 5, picked me up from my place in Bangalore and that traffic jam was not enough time for us to catch up on our lives. As each of my childhood/school friends arrived at the party, a rush of memories came to mind - and I'm so glad I got this opportunity to see everyone. After 11 years, a lot of us had evolved in terms of looks and personalities - some had gone from being 'good boys' to bad***es (they know who they are!)- but others were exactly the same. At times, it almost felt like being back in ninth grade again, in that middle seat, with the teacher having to turn around constantly to see what we were laughing and chatting about so much."
Thankfully, the common concerns that reunion events tend to come loaded with were far from the minds of this group. "Not a minute of the reunion we had felt fake or 'judgy'," Zankhana reflects. "Those invited were there to have a good time and that was the shared priority. I can't comment on other reunions, but I can definitely see how they could turn judgmental and fake very quickly... I'm just glad our own experience was so amazing - and I'd want another in a heartbeat if I could have it."

How to ensure you have a great reunion
After more than a decade organising alumni events, NYUAD's John Pine has some tips for those looking to reconnect through a school or college reunion:
If you're on the organising committee:
1. Let the alumni drive the event - This seems to be a key factor in the success of most of the alumni events John has been part of. "It's not the school saying, 'We think it's time for you to come back to school and get together with your old friends'," he says. When an event is driven by alumni, it takes on a life of its own - being driven by a mix of nostalgia, passion and even a sense of volunteerism.
2. Tap into a specific identity - Do your homework. More than hosting a get-together for the whole 'Class of 1999', John suggests it might be better to focus on a specific cross-section of the batch. An athletes' reunion or alumni meet for the former members of the on-campus theatre house is likely to garner a far more positive response than a generic invite to one and all.
If you're contemplating attending a reunion:
1. Go with a friend - That way, says John, you already have some sort of a built-in network when you get there - in case you're worried about feeling out of place.
2. Go with an open mind - If you're having misgivings or doubts about attending an alumni event, you're not alone. John says he hears about these fears all the time when he connects with former university students about upcoming gatherings. "But I've also been part of far more events where people came back elated about what a good time they ended up having after all. So, if you're unsure about attending, that's fine - but I'd encourage you to give it a shot. At least once. Go without preconceptions - and you may just be surprised."
karen@khaleejtimes.com


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