High school reunions have long been important markers of time, integral parts of managing and presenting identity. Of course, many have noted that reunions have lost some of their oomph in the time of social media. But the practice continues nonetheless, and in Vered Vinitsky-Seroussi and Robert Zussman’s 1996 study of high school reunions, they argue that reunions “are a critical vantage point from which to make sense of issues of identity in contemporary America.” Because reunions are anchored in the past, they give scholars a unique opportunity to study “an intersection of the past with the present,” offering a view into the many ways in which people construct their own inward and outward senses of identity.
Vinitsky-Seroussi and Zussman note some of the rituals that have become part of reunion attendance, describing these “remarkably extensive” preparations, including getting hair and makeup done, purchasing new outfits, going on diets, and even quitting, finding, or inventing jobs or relationships (see Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion). All of these preparations, they argue, are “testimony not only to the emotional power of reunions, but, more importantly, to the extent of self-conscious impression management.” Put simply, people are attempting to manage the way in which they present their identity via visual and verbal cues.
Writers and poets have reflected on these cultural milestones as well. In 2008, poet and MacArthur fellow A. E. Stallings reflected upon the dilemmas that reunions (and the passage of time) pose in a reflective poem that she wrote on the eve of her twentieth high school reunion (which she didn’t attend):
“And some who will never arrive at this date
Here in the distant future where we wait
Still surprised at how
We carry with us the omnipresent and ever-changing now.
We wince at what we used to wear,
Fashion has made ridiculous the high hubris of our hair…”
Journalist Donald M. Murray also wrote a poem about high school reunions, reflecting upon the metaphorical “sharks” of his youth (which today we might call “mean girls” or bullies). His poem reveals how we can all take the form of our enemy, in the shark tank that was high school:
“I still swim that corridor
at North Quincy High
river of sharks…”
Whether one attends or not, it is clear that reunions offer a chance to reflect upon and to continue shaping and interpreting one’s sense of self.