The 10 Year High School (Non) Reunion
In 2006 I spent most of my time calculating how many more years it would take to grow into my school blazer. I was in year 12 and still wearing the same one my parents bought me in year 7. On the weekends I would work my part-time job making frappes and serving obscenely large slices of lemon meringue pie to sophisticated food court patrons. The type that believes pie of any kind should be eaten by hand. But I was optimistic because life was just beginning. I was 17, had just invested in my first GHD and was about to graduate. And that only meant one thing – the countdown to my 10 year high school reunion had began.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion entered the video shop circuit when I was eight. It was listed as an ‘over- nighter’ but was the feel good movie you would return late and cop the overdue fine chin up. My parents wasted a lot of money that year. I was obsessed with the film and borrowed it fortnightly, entering a timeshare arrangement with this VHS, until I was banned.
The bit about timesharing I didn’t understand was the actual sharing part.
Eighteen years after its original release in 1997 and this cult classic is still considered the go-to of reunion films. It tells the story of socially outcast best friends Romy and Michele returning home to celebrate the Class of 1986. David Mirkin, director of RMHS, says, ‘It remains popular because it gives a very accurate depiction of high school with all its casual, devastating cruelty and then overcomes it.’
Prior to the advent of social media, high school reunions were legitimate reunions. There was no checking in on Facebook, stalking on LinkedIn, or accidentally double tapping and quickly untapping a photo on Instagram. There was mystery. A high school reunion was pretty much a polite way of saying: I didn’t like you in high school and I probably won’t like you now. I just need to know my life turned out better than yours or I will cry in a toilet cubicle while everyone dances to Cyndi Lauper.
David Mirkin graduated in 1974 to a soundtrack of James Taylor, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. Out of curiosity he attended his 15 year high school reunion. ‘Many had turned into their parents who used to yell at me. I knew this because they were now yelling at me,’ David jokingly admits. He hasn’t been to a reunion since, preferring the catharsis of directing one.
Two Olympics have passed since I graduated. I now have a lactose-free job, upgraded my GHD model to one that beeps when I forget to turn it off, and own Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion full-time on DVD. I have come a long way since 2006. However I fear my dream of living out the high school reunion fantasy won’t happen because I come from Generation Myspace (#RIP). Over the last decade the Class of 2006 has friend requested and watched life unfold from the comfort of our couch. There is no mystery left. After a decade of logging into Facebook daily I have transformed into an ASIO operative. I can tell you who got married, started a candy buffet business and ditched the monobrow.
Social commentator, Melissa Hoyer, says, ‘We are putting everything about our lives online, if anyone is interested in seeing what you are doing all they need to do is follow.’ She graduated in the ‘80s and even today ex-classmates pop up in her news feeds. ‘Social media has affected all areas of our life and it certainly can be attributed to the decline of the need to have school reunions.’
The high school reunion is an endangered species. No longer is the school hall transformed into an annual hub of fruit-punch and self-validation, instead it’s returned to hosting morning assembly and the beep test. There have been attempts to revive the reunion. In 2003 a short-lived reality series called High School Reunion located ex-classmates and dumped them into a Big Brother style share house. It was like watching an episode of Jersey Shore with drunk parents.
Another attempt at a reunion revival happened last October with Adelaide’s popular Mix102.3 High School Reunion concert, featuring a line-up of Australian music icons playing graduation anthems from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. The event was more of a reunion with nostalgia than classmates and poised at a generation that before the 2000s. Deborah Conway performed her 1991 chart topper ‘It’s Only the Beginning’ at the event, and connects the notion of reunion through music and its ability to embrace nostalgia. ‘As a young adult when you are laying down the memories of youth, these times most often have a soundtrack,’ she explains. ‘Whatever that soundtrack is becomes a trigger of recollection, of joy and of melancholy.’
While it’s unlikely I will celebrate my 10 year high school reunion this year a la Romy and Michele, I sometimes imagine what it could be. I hope it would have an icecream cake shaped like a Nokia 5210 and play a slide show of everyone’s old MSN chat profile photos to the Class of 2006’s favourite song ‘Temperature’ by Sean Paul. In the meantime when I see an ex-classmate at the supermarket and they tell me they’re now married with a baby and just adopted a rescue dog, I’ll do what any self-preserving individual does: smile and pretend I didn’t know.