Five Lame Reasons Not to Attend Your Reunion
Essayist and senior managing editor of Washingtonian magazine Bill O'Sullivan '83 on why you should attend Alumni Weekend 2019.
The first Haverford reunion I ever went to was my 15th, in 1998. I’m not sure why I’d never been tempted before—the introvert’s hesitance, I guess—or why I couldn’t get it off my mind that time. I checked in with my closest friends, and none could make it, yet something was compelling me. I didn’t decide for sure till the Friday of Alumni Weekend, and I had no car at the time, so I rented one that night and decided to go up and back on Saturday. If there was no one to talk to, I’d just wander around campus revisiting the guy I was back then. There are worse ways to spend a day.
It turned out I had a great time—and I’ve returned every five years since, most recently in 2018 for my 35th. I now tell myself my reason for going will reveal itself once I’m there, and it always does. So for anyone who’s never been to Alumni Weekend, or has but is on the fence about going again, I hereby offer five lame reasons not to attend your Reunion.
1. No one I know will be there.
The first reunion I went to, I’d probably been on campus 10 minutes when I ran into a classmate and her young son. She’d been more a friend of friends, and we’d had no contact since graduation, but she’d always been a lovely person and we’d shared enough meals in the Dining Center that my pleasure at seeing her was more than just low-grade relief at simply seeing anyone familiar.
There will be people you didn’t necessarily know well but who will remember you, and there’s nothing like hearing your name spoken by someone who wasn’t a close friend but remembers you anyway: You made an impression. Over the course of your visit, you’ll likely return the favor to someone else who’ll be just as happy to be remembered by you.
2. I have fond college memories, but they’re in the past.
Sharing memories is restorative and affirms formative experiences. But here’s the surprise—I’ve found that relatively little reminiscing occurs. Most conversation is about what we’ve been up to since Haverford, the people we’ve become, the families we’ve formed, the jobs we’ve held, the chapters of our lives written and revised. This is an interaction you can easily have with someone you didn’t know that well 20 or 30 years ago, but who’s your same age and walked the same campus paths for four years. Even more restorative: An exchange like this can remind you that where you are in your life now makes sense.
3. I didn’t have a great college experience and don’t need to revisit it.
I admit that I have mostly positive college memories. (One of my most pleasant recurring dreams to this day involves walking to the Dining Center to check my mailbox—the kind with a key.) Though I was gay and not out of the closet—even to myself—during college, at the first reunion I attended I ended up having a long and meaningful conversation with someone who was out at Haverford but wasn’t so happy at the time. He gave me perspective on the ways in which the community wasn’t always very welcoming to gay people in the early ’80s. His comments didn’t change my feelings about the place but did make me realize that even mixed experiences can have value—in my case, a reminder that being openly gay in college 35 years ago might not have been as great as I previously assumed.
In his case? Well, he did come to the reunion, and has been to every one since to see friends—which makes perfect sense to me. After all, you’re revisiting the full experience, which had a hand in making you who you are.
4. The activities don’t particularly interest me.
The lectures, panels, and tours are for the people they do interest. If that’s not you, there are still the meals, the impromptu chances to catch up, the beautiful campus to wander around, the ritual walk (especially for my generation and before) between Haverford and that other beautiful campus, Bryn Mawr. At my most recent reunion, I hadn’t planned to attend two back-to-back panels, but after lunch I found myself filing into the auditorium with the rest of my cohort. As we watched a film about a classmate’s medical clinic for undocumented immigrants, then later listened to a discussion about several people from my year who’d melded their professions with advocacy, I felt proud to be part of this community.
5. I’m just not a reunion person.
Actually, maybe the world isn’t made up of reunion and non-reunion people. The way I look at it is that when you have the chance to reconnect with those who shared some of your most seminal years, you should take it. I’ve always been glad I did.