Simple, Visible Strategies and Solutions

Here to Help: How to Survive Your High School Reunion

Research suggests that the memories we form in adolescence and early adulthood are the most vivid — a phenomenon known as the reminiscence bump. That can make high school reunions feel like a kind of psychological time travel, where your past identity collides with the present identity that you have spent years building, said Diana Divecha, a developmental psychologist at Yale School of Medicine. I asked experts for advice on how to decide whether to go to a reunion — and if you do go, how to make the most of it.

— MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS. You may have fantasies of impressing people who ignored you in school, said Mitch Prinstein, the chief science officer at the American Psychological Association. Don’t waste your time, he said. The movie scene where a former nerd makes a red-carpet entrance as everyone lowers their sunglasses in awe only exists on film, he added. Instead, present yourself as the person you are now.


— DON’T PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999. Hitting the bar can be tempting if you want to take the edge off or revive the old days, but it’s probably better to be present and lucid, Dr. Divecha said. Instead, have a reliable game plan for quelling your nerves. “When I went to my reunion, my strategy was to go with a friend, and we processed at various points during the night,” Dr. Divecha said. “Even in the bathroom.”

— THINK OF YOURSELF AS A ‘SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGIST.’ If you approach your classmates with curiosity, said Dr. Prinstein, you can engage without “setting up residence in the past.” You may find that people you didn’t think were cool back in the day are worth your admiration now, he said. “And for many people that can lead to some pleasant surprises and nice interactions,” he added.

— REMEMBER: YOU DON’T HAVE TO SHOW UP. If the idea of attending still makes you anxious, that’s OK. “It’s not for everybody,” Dr. Divecha said. In which case, she said, give yourself permission not to go. I understand why many people have no interest in going, but I did end up having a good time at my reunion. I was my senior year class clown, and it was immensely freeing to act silly with my friends — something I don’t get a ton of opportunities to do these days.

I was also excited to see my biology teacher at the reunion (who wrote in my college recommendation letter about my transformation from a “distasteful caterpillar into a butterfly”) and we’ve since become text buddies.

And, like Dr. Divecha pointed out, the event did speed by. A few hours later, I was taking the rickety elevator back to the present.

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