Nathan Graziano prefers to have relationships with former classmates separate from pageantry, the buffet and the crepe streamers strung from the ceiling.
There is a Kia Cadenza car commercial that begins with a sporty black car zipping through a city landscape, over well-lit bridges and past skyscrapers. Meanwhile, a gorgeous woman checks herself out—blood red lipstick and cat eyes—in the rearview mirror as a male voiceover asks the question, “Remember that girl who you didn’t notice in high school?”
It ends with the heart-attack brunette wearing a slink black dress getting out of the car and strut her stuff on a red carpet leading into an ostentatious hotel for her high school class reunion. A group of men in shirts and ties watch her shimmy, their tongues adequately wagging.
The metaphor, obviously, is that the Kia Cadenza, like the stunning woman who was shunned in high school, is now “hard to forget.”
It is a finely clichéd commercial, but a banner in the background caught my attention more than the woman. The banner reads, “Class of ’93,” which was also my high school graduating class.
This year is our 20th reunion, but unlike the tongue-waggers in the suits—and regardless of potential vixens in slink black dresses—I knew I wouldn’t be attending.
And this was before it was cancelled due to lack of interest.
I grew up in West Warwick, R.I., an old mill town on the Pawtuxet River that saw its heyday in the early-to-mid 20th Century, long before the likes of me.
While the demographics have changed a bit in the 20 years since I lived there, when I was growing up West Warwick was decisively middleclass, blue-collar—a place that could’ve been plucked from a Springsteen song. Maybe this contributed to the fact that the one thing I remember vividly about my graduating high school class was a shared, tacit motivation to get the hell out of West Warwick and never look back; as The Boss wrote, it was “a town full of losers” and we were “pulling out of there to win.”
In many ways, I accomplished this, minus the “winning” part. While my parents still live in town, and I visit often, I haven’t lived in West Warwick—or Rhode Island—since I graduated high school. This is not to disparage Rhode Islanders. If anything, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed an affinity for my hometown, a type of tormented love.
But I also got the sense, when plans began brewing about our 20th reunion, that it might not be something many of us would want to attend. For the vast majority of us, adolescence is daunting period, riddled and plagued by discomfort and the arduous process of trying to discover a place in a world of uncertainty.
These things, by the way, are not easily captured in a car commercial.
However, since the advent of the public high school, it seems people have always wanted to revisit these inglorious days through formal reunions where the graduating class gathers for a sadistic measurement of success—social, financial, physical—and, in some cases, a healthy dose of schadenfreude.
But given today’s social media, and its ubiquity, it seems that class reunions have become superfluous and antiquated, a true thing of the past.
For example, my graduating class’ reunion—attempted to be organized by one of a handful of a former-classmate who cared about it—formed a Facebook page where we likely trolled the pictures and the statuses and found out who was fat, who was married and happy, and who was broken and divorced.
And, of course, who was lying.
This wasn’t exactly new information, though. Before the reunion page was formed, when many of us were creating our Facebook accounts, the site prompted us to find former classmates, as did the now-obsolete Classmates.com before it.
In other words, there is no longer a need to schmooze beside balloons donning the school colors and pretend, over heavy-handed drinks and cold chicken strips, that the person you’re talking with—someone you haven’t seen in 20 years and with a good reason—is any less of an enigma than they were when you sat next to them in junior English.
In theory alone, the premise of a class reunion has always been awkward and contrived and uncomfortable, especially for people like me: an anxious person with vast insecurities surrounding the decisions I’ve made in adulthood.
No one needs to hear about my train wrecks, and I’m not particularly eager to share. And anyone pompous enough to present a happily-ever-after narrative to a crowd of their balder and fatter and more cynical peers no longer needs the class reunion either; this is precisely why we have Facebook and other social media.
Additionally, the people who have remained friends since high school have done so without the pageantry of a reunion. If someone made enough of an impact on your life to keep in contact with them for two decades, then you don’t need a buffet and crepe streamers strung from the ceiling to appreciate their company. In today’s shrinking world, it is not difficult to find someone who mattered to you.
It seems like we—as a culture—have moved past the days where we have too many vodka-tonics and rub the knee of a former-prom date beneath a table with those damn balloons bleeding the school colors.
For the mousy girl turned sexpot or the scrawny guy now bench-pressing cars, your former classmates are likely already privy to your transformation. They’ve quietly monitored your Facebook posts and profile pictures, and said guy or girl who rejected you two decades ago has already adequately kicked their selves in the ass.
There is no longer a need for people to throw the keys to their Kia Cadenza in the sweaty palm of valet and power-strut down a red carpet.
There is no longer a need to see one another again because, through social media, we have already seen enough.