Ten years, now what?
July 24, 2007 8:55 AM   Subscribe

What is a successful weirdo's best approach to a High School Reunion Questionnaire?

My ten year reunion is in October. A work obligation will probably keep me from attending. I received the questionnaire, though, and as this may be the only contact I wind up having with my graduating class, I'd like to make a genuine effort. My questions:

1. Does anyone actually read these things?

2. Is "honesty" appreciated? I don't mean honesty about one's job and current life, a la Romy and Michele. I mean emotional honesty, when it comes to answering questions like, "Do you have a 'most embarrassing' moment from high school that you'd like to share?" and, "What have you been up to since graduation? Don't be shy. Tell us about any special experiences." And don't even get me started on, "Do you have a message you'd like to share with your fellow classmates?"

As a writer and storyteller, it is hard to fight the instinct to really knock it out of the park with these answers. While I'm not interested in telling off everyone who made my life miserable (that's what god invented MySpace for), I feel that there are things I could say now that would certainly clear the air regarding rumors and prejudices about me, both then and now.

This is a small graduating class in a small high school in a small town. They did not mean to produce the mighty pillar of flame you see before you today, in fact did what they could to stamp it out. Is it worth the effort to use a few well chosen words to illuminate the fact that I have found my place in the world despite all that and am not bitter? No really, I'm not.

I'm a pansexual philosopher-type living in pinko homo New York City. Even the most minimal candor on the most basic questions (such as "significant other") presents a challenge. If I'm going to be open at all, mightn't I just as well crack the sucker wide open, especially since I'm not planning on being there to follow up? Or is it just going to upset applecarts long since left by the roadside?

(If I do end up going, we should totally make a meetup out of it.)
posted by hermitosis to Human Relations (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I say let 'em have it and crack that sucker wide open. Why should you shy away from how awesome you have become despite the efforts of those who tried to discourage you.
posted by chillmost at 9:05 AM on July 24, 2007

To clarify a bit, I feel I have an opportunity (and perhaps an obligation) to make an appeal for tolerance, as well as increase the positive visibility of queer individuals to many who are still very isolated from all of that. So I'm really, really not looking to tweak noses or settle grudges with my questionnaire. Living well really is the best revenge.
posted by hermitosis at 9:06 AM on July 24, 2007

I don't see any point in doing it at all if you're not going to A) be honest, and B) have fun with it.

But I'd also ask myself what I hoped to get out of it, and what the audience would get out of it. Would it be a net positive for you and everyone else (that is, does it tend to maximize utility)? Are there enough folks back home who care about you that they'll be happy to get word from you, even/especially if you have broken the mold?
posted by adamrice at 9:07 AM on July 24, 2007

If you went to school with mainstream, average type teenagers, chances are they grew up to be mainstream, average type adults. Telling them about how you and your transgender life partner manhauled six starving polar bears up the side of Everest to raise awareness about the contributions of cow-fart methane to global warming is cool, but they won't necessarily think so. Be prepared for an underwhelming response.
posted by methylsalicylate at 9:08 AM on July 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

Purely subjective answer, not even anecdotal... but from how you describe the school, the town and the people, I doubt your well chosen words are going to have the effect you would like them to have.

These people are not worth the effort you would put into this. They are not going to sit around your questionnaire going "wow, he's really cool, wish we'd seen that back then." They probably have their preconceived notions on you and anything you write will be used to cement those, especially in your absence (and this goes for general notions of 'pansexuality' or 'different lifestyles' as well).

If anything I'd write a few jokey answers that read "I really couldn't be bothered spending more time on this." But most likely I wouldn't respond at all.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:13 AM on July 24, 2007

I say go for it, but I agree with methylsalicylate that what seems funny, insightful, impressive, or honest to you, may come across somewhat differently to people who have spent the time since they last saw you steeping themselves in the homo/xenophobic culture that's prevalent in parts of the U.S.

But you know your audience better than any of us do, and you have the right attitude about it -- living well really is the best revenge -- so I think you should go for it.

I just think you don't need to beat them over the head with it. Sometimes a little wry understatement works better than heaps of exaggeration or even the whole truth.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:16 AM on July 24, 2007

Telling them about how you and your transgender life partner manhauled six starving polar bears up the side of Everest to raise awareness about the contributions of cow-fart methane to global warming is cool, but they won't necessarily think so

I'm saving all that for retirement, anyway.

I'm not worried about it being a waste of my time, because mostly this is interesting and easy for me. I like surveys!

Understated and tactful (and succinct!) are what I am aiming for. Hopefully they are all reading at a high-school level by now *clamps hands over mouth*
posted by hermitosis at 9:24 AM on July 24, 2007

The purpose of these types of surveys is to highlight some of the funnier or touching moments from high school, and to take stock of how far everyone has come. At my reunion, select "humorous" gems were read aloud, the people with the most kids were applauded, and the evening was generally riddled with inside jokes. The only people who ever saw our responses to the questionnaire were the organizers--the class president and a few other class leaders. If your reunion is anything like mine, your words will likely go into a box somewhere, and never reach their intended audience.
posted by kables at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2007

Looks like they really are going to distribute them. From the email:

"... it is the Reunion Committees intention to create a Reunion Booklet that we will distribute as you check in at the reunion. It will give everyone a chance to see what old friends have been up to and create an opportunity to get to know one another once again.

Please complete this questionnaire (even if you can not make the reunion) and email the completed version back to me by August 20, 2007. Please also include a current picture of yourself and/or your family. Remember to use a picture that is of good quality and close–up. Since we will be editing the size of the photos this is very important for printing quality."
posted by hermitosis at 9:35 AM on July 24, 2007

I say throw it out. I've found the best way to come to peace with bad experiences in my past is to just shrug. Those people were part of another life a long time ago (and I'm not even that old.) Some people from high school are still part of my life, most aren't - that's not an accident.

You don't owe them any entertainment, lessons on tolerance, or anything else. If they haven't grown up by now they won't grow up because of your stories.
posted by putril at 9:38 AM on July 24, 2007

I take a rather hard and firm line with things such as this.

Basically, those people I want to keep up with from High School, I have. The others, basically are strangers to me.

If in the last 18 years I've not had the inclination to visit, call, write, or even email them, then basically I have nothing to say to them.

I had no real problems in school; I enjoyed my high school days immensely, was popular with the people I wanted to be popular with, was fairly well known, and involved in a lot of activities. I have no axe to grind with my schoolmates, but also I have no particular interest in going to a reunion. I did not go to my 5 or 10, and I won't be going to my 20 either.

However, of my graduating class of 400, I would consider about 40 to be "friends" and maybe another 50 to be some kind of acquaintance. The others are for all intents and purposes strangers, especially now this many years hence. At least 200 of the 400 I quite literally wouldn't recognize if I were to see them on the street. Why do I care what these strangers think?

There is really nothing you can hope to accomplish with this. It will either be "lost" by the planning staff, or else it will be glossed over and ignored, or else used as fuel for further appeasement of their bigotry.

In short, I wonder what you get out of this, except some possibility of trying to seem superior or elitist, having left the hicks behind and moved on to a proud progressive utopia.

I just don't see how any good could come from this.

If you really cared about any of those people, they would already know about you and your life.

Writing this letter would really be no different than going to a random street corner in NYC and saying "I'm here, I'm queer, get used to it!". It will matter naught, and will be ignored by a bunch of strangers who don't care anyway.

Know what I mean?
posted by Ynoxas at 9:45 AM on July 24, 2007

Were you out to anyone then? I say be matter-of- fact about your responses.

My 20 year reunion was supposed to be last year and wasn't. There is still a big part of me that wants to throw an extra-spicy bloody mary into the face of the person who talked someone (who I only liked as a friend) out of asking me to the prom.
posted by brujita at 9:56 AM on July 24, 2007

On preview, my answer may be overly optimistic. Still, I like to think that for every pansexual philosopher wondering what to tell their small-minded, isolated former classmates, there are at least two or three former classmates hoping that at reunion they can show themselves to be no longer small-minded and isolated.

I think "understated and tactful" is the way to go.

OK, here's what I was typing while the first ten answers were piling up:

I don't know whether this will help answer your questions, but here goes. I too had a small graduating class at a small high school in a small town. At our 10-year reunion (which took place within the past few years), the prevailing attitude was of pleasant surprise (and what I would call willingness to be pleasantly surprised) at all the various paths everyone's lives had taken.

One thing to remember is that although high school may be uniquely torturous for the "weirdos," freaks, and outcasts, it really is not anybody's shining moment. Most people, even if they seemed to be on top of the social heap ten years ago, are probably coming to this reunion hoping that "rumors and prejudices" about them have been dispelled and forgotten.

At my reunion, there developed a sort of tacit agreement to focus on the present and not dig too deeply into the dirt of the past. I think this worked well. So I would suggest skipping the "most embarrassing high school moment" question, unless you can invoke a "moment" that everyone else can relate to. (So, maybe "the day that Mr. Horrible Math Teacher singled me out for one of his signature hissy fits," but not "the day that the bullies wrote a homophobic slur on my locker and the popular girls walked by and laughed.") But for the present-time questions, sure, be honest, and let the tone imply "successful" i.e. really happy with where you are now and where you're headed.

As for degrees of openness—whether to "crack this sucker wide open"—how about thinking about this as introducing yourself to a whole new group of people? In a way, that's what it is, since a) everyone has grown and changed since high school, and b) everyone has forgotten 95% of what they ever knew about the classmates they haven't seen for a decade. So, how much do you reveal about yourself when meeting a new group of people socially? How much would you reveal upon meeting a new group of people whom you didn't plan to see again in the next several years?
posted by Orinda at 9:59 AM on July 24, 2007

I agree that being totally open may seem elitist to this Middle America audience, but not responding at all could be perceived the same way.

The goal here, it seems, is to find the perfect brain poison that will drive them all mad, and hopefully worship you as a god of some sort.

They likely take their high school memories much more seriously than you do. Chances are, many of the reunion-goers will feel the experiences they had then rival all others since.

Take this into account, pretend you take it just as seriously, but make your response ever so slightly twisted that it will eat away at them. Sneak in under the radar, and then go in for the kill! Subtlety is key, here.

Full disclosure: I did not go to high school.
posted by pantsonfire at 10:01 AM on July 24, 2007

No one is going to think about anything you've written 7 seconds after they read/skim it. Unless they're were pointing and laughing at you back then, in which case they'll be pointing and laughing--moreso if you take it terribly seriously. Throw it out.
posted by Martin E. at 10:14 AM on July 24, 2007

Been there, did the writing... really a waste of time and effort...

Stay in touch with the folks you are still friends with, put your energy into fostering those relationships... the rest of them could care less.

/end cynic mode
posted by HuronBob at 10:14 AM on July 24, 2007

my gut reaction is to say fuck 'em and write verbose answers about how awesome you are now and how much they missed out by being biggoted fucktards 10 years ago.

but, in reality, they're still biggoted fucktards and will just read your answers--heartfelt though they may be--and mock them to each other while they get drunk to pearl jam. (do i win for cynicism?)

if there are people you would genuinely like to keep in touch with, and that you would like to update on your life, take a few minutes to write the answers that you would tell to your great-grandmother who doesn't know you're queer. the answers that will keep everyone happy.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:34 AM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you do respond, imagine as your audience the few people who didn't give you a hard time, as well as the many who now regret that they weren't more tolerant. I would bet money that some of your classmates would be genuinely happy for you if you let them know you're doing well. Express it without rancor if you can; they all know you were treated badly. I agree that living well speaks for itself.
posted by wryly at 10:54 AM on July 24, 2007

be open, honest, succint, respectful, and awesome. I say go for it.
posted by taliaferro at 11:09 AM on July 24, 2007

I have found my place in the world.... I'm a pansexual philosopher-type living in pinko homo New York City.

You know, I sort of lean towards writing this on a piece of paper in 18 point type and sending it in. If you want, you can include something else about your partner, if you have one, or other things that make your life happy and just the way you want it to be and I'd seriously leave off the NO THANKS TO YOU FUCKERS implied ending.

I think these questionnaires encourage more high school behavior from people that have by and large outgrown it. You'd only ask about embarassing stuff from high school if you yourself had not been mortified by the guys who asked you out as a joke or who made fun of you for being a lesbian or a slut or called you names in class just out of the teacher's hearing (to name a few from my personal history. I don't nurture the memories of these experiences as some sort of personal hurt, I just let them remind me how seriously happy I am to not be in high school anymore). So I'd say, keep it brief and informative, enough for people to know how to get in touch if they might want to, tell them happy stories about how you're doing and link to that MySpace page if you feel the need to go further than that.
posted by jessamyn at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2007

I think you should totally fuck with their heads. But that's easy for me to say - I threw out all my questionnaires and wiped my hands of the whole thing. As you said above, living well is truly the best revenge. [Another pansexual quasi-philosopher here, now living in the sodom of Seattle.]
posted by matildaben at 11:20 AM on July 24, 2007

Can you make a difference? Maybe so, maybe just to one or two people's minds, and maybe to one or two of their kids who are just a little different. Maybe your words will stick in your classmates minds, not consciously, but enough to combine with some other words later on, and to make them think, instead of, "All that different stuff is stupid, weird, and probably evil", rather, "Maybe there's something to that."
posted by amtho at 11:27 AM on July 24, 2007

Living well really is the best revenge

only if you (can) let it speak for itself

Understated, tactful and succinct is a runner-up.
posted by probablysteve at 11:42 AM on July 24, 2007

I'm only five years out of high school, so, grain of salt etc., but I am going to very strongly agree with methylsalicylate. "If you went to school with mainstream, average type teenagers, chances are they grew up to be mainstream, average type adults. "

Facebook has really opened my eyes to how true this is. All of these people from high school! All of these pretty, intelligent girls! All ... not that exciting.
posted by blacklite at 12:01 PM on July 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

I vote for forgetting about the reunion and not responding to the letter -- and instead reading Sam Lipsyte's Home Land. It's a fantastically funny novel written as a series of increasingly candid letters to the narrator's high school alumni newsletter.
posted by mothershock at 12:09 PM on July 24, 2007

1. People will skim over these things and read yours if they're curious. They will be able to detect any agenda you try to weave into it.

2. Just let it go. Grandiloquent bitterness will not come across much differently from ordinary bitterness and people will just look at each other and talk about how you need to get over what happened ten years ago in high school.
posted by cardboard at 2:23 PM on July 24, 2007

My reunion was last year. My own personal experience is forcing me to vote for the IGNORE option. However, I do think you should fill it out, but NOT send it in and just use it as a closure exercise.

#1: No, they really don't, or they'll just read into it what they want.
#2: I appreciate emotional honesty, but I always have. I tried to be emotionally honest with my old classmates and unfortunately found that they really haven't progressed past the mental place they were in during HS.

Check your email...
posted by goml at 2:24 PM on July 24, 2007

Not that you're asking whether you should do the survey at all, but as another "successful weirdo" there's no way on earth that I'd ever bother with this (unless I was filling it out for my own amusement, similar to what goml said).

I realize it was high school (where everyone is awkward on the inside, if not on inside and outside both), and I know that I should have "gotten over it" by now, but I still resent my experiences in a school that sounds a lot like yours. The way I see it, I owe them absolutely nothing. In fact, I would rather they not know anything about what I'm doing in the world today...not because I'm ashamed (there's nothing to be ashamed of in my life), but rather because they don't deserve to know the awesome creature I've become. (Hmm...I sound way snarkier than you do.)

There is no way I'd spend any time worrying about what to say to people who treated me like poo back in the day. Sure, sometimes I wonder what they're up to and who they've become, but that's what G-d invented MySpace for. ;-) Yeah, people can change...but those people? Doubtful.
posted by splendid animal at 3:34 PM on July 24, 2007

I just got an invitation to my 10-year reunion too (graduating class of 97, even though I only went there until year 9! I never knew they cared...)

I absolutely hated that school and thankfully loved the school I went to after it and subsequently graduated from, where people were diverse, interesting, accepting and intellectually curious - all the things that were reviled at the first school. I am curious to see whether the people from my first school have turned into human beings (and not all of them were bad), but I'm going to give it a miss, because I have worked really hard to make my life far more interesting and filled with better people than I remember them as being.

Like an earlier commenter, I have kept in touch with the good people from high school and happily left behind the deadbeats. If I went to the reunion, it would be to gloat about how I'm so great now and confront 13-year-old bullies, and I don't want to be that person.

Reunions as a social phenomenon are a time to reflect on your achievements, choices and personal development. It is up to the individual to interpret their reaction to this event and decide what they would achieve for themselves if they present their current self to their teenage self. I came down on the 'I have changed, they probably have, but I don't think it would be healthy for me to drag up negative experiences' side, but you might be on the 'I'd like people to know who I am and integrate all parts of my life' side. Only you can know.
posted by Lucie at 6:22 PM on July 24, 2007

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