“High school will be the best time of your life, “ my mother told me when I was 14-years-old. As it turned out, high school for me was fun, as well as challenging, daunting, and aggravating, at times. The best thing about high school is that it gave me the courage to face the future bravely.
I started out my high school years as a freshman at Chicago’s Senn High School. I transferred to Niles West High School in Skokie during the summer before my junior year. Luckily, some of my Senn friends, also moved to the suburbs and started Niles West in their junior year, too.
When I received an invitation to the 50th joint high school reunion of Niles West and Niles East, I had mixed feelings about attending—much like the feeling I had when I started my junior year at Niles West. I decided to attend the August 24th reunion for several reasons. First, when I went with my husband to his 50th South Shore reunion, everyone, including me, had a great time. Secondly, Niles West 26th reunion was fun. I also hoped to see some of the people who were my friends in high school. Finally, I was curious to see whether people had changed, as they got older.
When I looked at the invitation, it brought back memories of my first day of school as a junior at Niles West. I was astounded at how friendly everyone was to me. Complete strangers said, “hi,” and asked me about my summer. The biggest shock came when a good-looking boy that I didn’t know came over to my locker and planted a long kiss on my lips. When he looked up, he saw I wasn’t his girlfriend, and said, “Who are you?” It was then I realized that I was mistaken for a “look-alike” girl who was well known in the school, popular and smart. She was a hard act to follow. Nevertheless, the two years I spent at Niles West turned out to be good, despite some challenges. I made new friends and remained friends with some of the people I knew growing up in Chicago.
As the date of the reunion approached, I decided to attend the August 23 informal get-together at the Marriott Lincolnshire Hotel because I thought it would be a good “warm-up” before the “main event” on Saturday night: dinner, dancing, slide shows, and connecting with people from the past.
When my husband and I arrived and signed in, I saw a mass of faces I didn’t recognize. I began second-guessing myself as to whether I made the right decision to attend, but as we wove our way through the crowd, I saw people from some of my classes, friends who were in a girls club that I had joined, former neighbors, and people who were “friends of friends.” I was amazed that people I never knew or barely knew came up to talk to me. We had some great conversations and many laughs as we reminisced about high school. We also caught up on our lives since high school: careers, marriages, children, grandchildren, travels, relocations, and, sadly, deaths of some friends and family. Many of my former classmates are “snowbirds” who spend their winters in Florida, as we do. So, we exchanged contact information, and we hope to see each other again. What amazed me was that so many people had traveled across the United States to attend this momentous event.
There are a variety of reasons why people don’t want to attend their high school reunions. Some say they want to put those years behind them. Maybe, the past was better than the present for them, or maybe their high school years evoke painful memories. Some people had conflicting plans, and others didn’t want to spend the money. Others are on the “cannot find” list. Sadly, many of our former classmates are dead, as was shown on a slide show of “Those who left before us.”
If you are debating about going to your high school reunion, I say give it a chance and go. Try to put aside your high school angst and remember the good times, if there were any. Go to your reunion with courage and gusto. Be friendly and you will be surprised how many people are friendly right back at you. Despite my initial misgivings, my 50th high school reunion was a great experience.