Your Label Here: Another Reunion Post

July 19, 2011

 I woke up yesterday with a nagging feeling of dread—my high school reunion is coming up this weekend and I really don’t want to go. It seems silly to whine about a high school reunion because it’s not like school—I don’t actually have to go. A truant officer is not going to collar me and threaten to throw me into a high school reunion detention center if I don’t drag myself to the party and engage in reminiscing over bad fashion choices and cheesy music and questionable late night behavior.


Then again I do have to go—at least this year—because I live only an hour-and-a-half away and I was best friends in high school with two-thirds of the reunion committee. If I didn’t go, they would serve as the high school reunion truant officers, dragging me through the door. But truthfully, reunions aren’t that bad—especially if I look at them the same way I look at exercise—something I have to talk myself into, because I’ll end up thinking “That wasn’t so bad, now was it?” and feeling a little better when I’m done.

So I decided to gear up for the weekend by watching a YouTube clip here and there of my favorite high school reunion scenes, where I made the disturbing discovery that almost every reunion plotline involves either lying and subterfuge if not outright fraud. And so I wondered—does high school trauma run so deep that we obsess over returning in triumph to something as seemingly insignificant as a high school reunion, or does it just make for an easy screenplay story? As I think back on reunions I’ve actually gone to rather than watched on the screen, I think the former might be true. In high school it’s easy to feel like we’ve been slapped with a label, and even if (or especially if) that label is all in our heads, we’re going to want to go back and prove, without a doubt, that we’re no longer that same loser/jerk/jock/nerd/snob/slut that everyone thought we were. And perhaps that’s why I began the memoir I wrote—a memoir that’s set almost entirely in high school—because I felt the need to set my own record straight.


But what I discovered—in writing the book and in reconnecting with friends at reunions and elsewhere—is that there really isn’t much to straighten out. A label is just a label and those can be changed as often as we change tires or hairstyles or underwear, so going to a high school reunion with an embellished story or in a rented sports car or with a newly dyed head of hair is pretty meaningless.  Who we were in high school is who we are now. While the labels might fall away—as I discover the snob was painfully shy or the jerk was getting tooled on at home, I might also find the jerk is still a jerk and the loser has lost it completely—I think our characters stay the same.

The problem is that, just like in high school, I think most of us still don’t completely know who we are or what we want or what we can’t admit we’re afraid of. So as often as we try to escape labels, we also cling to them like we might cling to the idea that having the right car or occupation or pair of shoes will somehow help say whatever it is that we can’t. Instead of saying we still don’t have a clue, we’ll  share pictures of our families and swap stories of our lives and our struggles and our adventures as if to say, “You’ll have to figure it out for yourself, because frankly, I’m stumped.”

So as I consider what I’ll wear and what I’ll say next weekend, as well as whether to color the gray from my hair—I’ll leave you with that list of my favorite scenes, if only because music and movies also serve as labels of sorts, saying whatever we can’t.

  1. Grosse Pointe Blank

When I say that our characters stay the same, that doesn’t mean every guy who stood up his prom date is a hitman waiting to happen, but who knows. . . This movie also has both a terrific soundtrack (and great soundtracks, like the theme of lying, also is quite common in reunion movies) and the best—and most literal—“you can’t go home again” scene.

  1.  Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion

Yes, this movie could easily be classified as a chick flick and it does have a bit of bizarre sci-fi business Alan Cumming must have brought with him from the Spy Kids franchise, but what can I say? It’s your classic fairy tale story of the high school nerds hitting their peak long after high school ends, plus Janeane Garofalo lurking around the corner whenever the plot gets too saccharine.

  1. The “Reunion” episode of 30 Rock

It’s a little troubling for me to include this, mainly because several friends have compared me to Tina Fey either because we share unfortunate taste in eyewear and fashion sense and mouse-brown hair or because we have a similar sense of humor (sadly we share nothing in terms of artistic success—but I’m not dead yet). What disturbs me about this episode is that Liz/Tina goes back to her reunion believing she’d been this witty nerd who’d flown beneath the radar only to discover she’d been the class bully. . . but since I’ve only had one post-high school experience where an old classmate drunkenly informed me, “You know what? I never liked you,” I hold out hope that I’m not the jerk who’s still a jerk.

  1. Something Wild

Not Jonathan Demme’s best movie, and not really a reunion movie, but with the best reunion scene—because how can any high school reunion go wrong if The Feelies are the band!

  1. Music and Lyrics


Again, not a reunion movie, but the reunion scene is brilliant in evoking that strange emotional mixture of pleasure and boredom and pain that is the high school reunion—and Hugh Grant, as an aging pop star, is brilliant in emulating the absolute cheesy nature of eighties pop. 


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