Disclaimer: I was not popular in high school. I was a nerd. Solidly B crowd, A crowd being the good-looking, wealthy partiers, surfers, and cool cats, C crowd the totally hopeless geeks.
I attended my 20-year high school reunion in Honolulu last weekend (I know, rough life growing up in Hawaii and going to Punahou, one of the top college prep schools in the country and alma mater of President Obama). I hadn’t been to any high school events since graduating in 1990. If you’d told me even five years ago that I’d be at my 20th, I would’ve laughed out loud. I enjoyed my years at Punahou, which is an outstanding school, but I was thrilled to move onto the freedom of college, and embraced the opportunity to create a new identity for myself at Stanford.
Facebook got me to my reunion. For real. I’ve reconnected with dozens of classmates over the past couple of years thanks to social media, and doing so made me want to see them in person. I knew little tidbits about their lives, like married with four kids, living in Seattle, that type of thing. It didn’t make it any less fun to see them in person. On the contrary, I was bursting with curiosity and excitement about getting to give them hugs and discover more details of their lives.
At the 20th, I was relieved to discover that popularity didn’t matter much, though the A crowd dominated the dance floor. Everyone was friendly and open-hearted. The entire room went nuts when the DJ played “Don’t You Forget About Me”— the theme song of the brilliant 80s John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. It made me grin ecstatically to witness us all jumping up and down in unison screaming along to the lyrics, “Hey hey hey hey!!!,” hands up in the air.
In high school, my B-crowd friends were in honors classes with me, and many of us did theater together. Now they’re doctors, entrepreneurs, cinematographer/photographers, parents, and genuinely lovely, amazing people whom I am honored to call friends. It warmed my heart to be in their company again.
What struck me most about the whole event was how little people had changed. Sure, some people had lost their hair, or at least tamed their 80s permed-out, over-teased and hairsprayed fros (thank heavens). Others had gained quite a bit of weight, and a few had grown thinner and fitter. But their mannerisms, fundamental looks, and even their character remained the same.
I found this both comforting and frightening. Comforting in that, regardless of what trials and joys, triumphs and successes we may experience, our core essence is constant. We are who we are. On the other hand, what does this say about our ability to change? What if we’re trying to work through a neurosis, like the tendency to be a bit of an anxious control freak, for example (I’m not naming any names, but have a finger pointing at my own chest right now). What then? Does this persistency of character imply that we will never succeed at self-improvement?
Naturally, I posted this train of thought to my Facebook Wall. One friend responded: “The Self doesn’t change, but the energy we receive and give, that changes always!” Another commented: “It could be both, depending on how much you love your self and others…” And a third, who had also attended the reunion, said: “It is what it is. Sometimes it’s just a case of Temporary Reunion Regression. What counts is that some of us know in our hearts that we’ve changed for the better.” My mom remarked: “There are only two choices, growth or stagnation. For better or for worse, status quo never lasts.”
What do you think?