The Reunion is Ruined

Susan married her husband in 2010 and now has two children and a pet cat. She’s a successful lawyer living in Connecticut and spent her Christmas vacation traveling around South America. Her son plays soccer and was picked to be varsity captain. She also ate chia pudding for breakfast yesterday….

Typically, information like this is exchanged at a high school reunion. But if Susan shares this same exact information (and even more) on Facebook, what’s my motivation to attend my 10 or 20-year reunion? High school and college reunions are an iconic part of American culture. Whether it be a marketing tactic for weight loss medications and hair growth products or the theme of movies and TV shows, the reunion is a dying concept.

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 I experienced my sister attending her 5-year high school reunion. She anticipated seeing her friends and having that face-to-face interaction she had missed. But when she returned, she was surprisingly underwhelmed. Half her class was a no-show and the other half was distant acquaintances. And although she had not spoken to most of her classmates, she already knew how their appearances had changed over 5 years and where they were in their life. In a blog written in the Huffington Post by Galanty Miller, he describes how there is something innately unnatural with keeping in touch with people who are typically so distant.

High school reunions used to take place ten years after you graduate, or twenty-five years after you graduate. Now, high school reunions take place every morning, while you sit at your computer not doing work, browsing your former classmates’ update statuses. “Hey, the chubby guy I sat next to in biology class ran another marathon this weekend. I guess I should ‘like’ it?

This plays into the idea of this happy façade we maintain over social media accounts. Rarely do we post the ugly pictures or the embarrassing moments. So we go 10 or 20 years assuming our classmates are living a perfect life. But even beyond Facebook friendships, “some simple Googling is all it takes to at least find a work profile or some trace of what’s happened after high school.”

This (short) video perfectly summarizes the painful awkwardness of reunions in the digital age:

In summary: Your classmates begin reminding you of things you’ve done in the past that you can barely remember yourself. And although you haven’t seen them in years, they know the smallest details. What happens to those who don’t have Facebook? Your classmates will think you’re dead. Time magazine reported in a decline in reunions starting in 2011. Although it’s unclear if the recession played a role in this, many believe that it is in part due to the element of curiosity and lack of motivation for people to attend.

However, some universities have been successful in channeling social media into their alumni network. Schools such as Cornell leverage social media to create a tighter sense of community. It also creates a space for alumni to share photos and videos both before and after the reunion. Wagner College has taken a similar approach in creating Facebook groups telling alums to “Click on your class year to connect with your classmates through Social Media!” (a little creepy but relatively effective in creating a network). Boston College had also rolled out their own alumni network via social media. Rather than creating a network solely based on geography, they’ve also focused on specific classes/years. Each alumni chapter (both locally and internationally) and class has its own Facebook page run by the Alumni Association.  Leveraging social media is one of the reasons Boston College has such a strong alumni network.

Although the future of class reunions and its symbolic meaning is declining, there really isn’t a way to replace the real human interaction. (But maybe this is a potential space for VR?)

 

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9 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this blog post. The topic is very interesting. Social media I believe will definitely have a disruptive impact on high school and college reunions for sure. I don’t know how large it will be but it definitely will exist. People go to reunions to catch up with old friends and classmates. When we have such a personal view into someone’s life, we feel a sense that we know more. But as you mentioned a lot of faceobook and other social medias are dramaticesd to only show the good of a person. Because of this, there still is a surpise when you rekindled 10,15,20 years later.

  2. holdthemayo4653 · ·

    This post really resonated with me. I skipped my 10 year college reunion. I think facebook not only gives you a way to stay updated on someone’s life but also a way to still feel connected. Even if I haven’t spoken to someone in 5 years if I “like” a couple of their photos, wish them happy birthday, and occasionally post on their wall I feel like I stay up to date on their life and am still a part of it somehow. I also decided that facebook was taking up too much of my life. I didn’t go as far as to deactivate it but I did delete the app from my phone and it has been oddly liberating. It will be very interesting to see if the advent of social media reduces the popularity of reunions or increases their awareness/attendance through rallying and advertising of social media.

  3. vicmoriartybc · ·

    Really interesting post! I never really considered the effect social media would have on reunions, and I guess that’s because I’m not yet old enough to be invited to one? There’s no doubt that social media, especially Facebook, has allowed people to connect with old classmates, even if they went to school together 30+ years ago. I remember that when my mom first made her Facebook, the first thing she did was search for people from high school. Also, one of her friends who she hadn’t spoken to in 10+ years actually contacted me via Facebook to try to connect with my mom. Will reunions eventually become obsolete, or just another chance for people to take photos, which they will then post on social media for other former classmates to see?

  4. Aditya Murali · ·

    Awesome post! I never really though about how irrelevant high school/college reunions are in this day and age. As a sophomore in college, I honestly feel like I know too much about people that I’m not exactly that close to from high school because I have them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If in 20 years I suddenly find the urge to find out how my high school acquaintances are doing, I could literally just find them on Facebook or have a chat. I still believe reunions can exist, as long as their point is not to catch up with people you haven’t talked to in years or decades. That can be done through social media. Instead, if it is seen as a symbolic event, having a bunch of people in the same room that once walked the same halls as you for 4 years, then it can still exist and be an interesting evening!

  5. Really cool post that highlights a topic many people haven’t thought about! Facebook is a really interesting tool for keeping up with people from high school because I feel like much of our “staying updated” actually comes from subconscious scrolling through our news feed. Because of this, it’s easy to feel like we aren’t missing out on what our previous classmates might be up to today and keeping tabs on people has become increasingly easy.

    While I completely see why reunions have declined for this reason, I think there is definitely still a use for them as we grow older. After my first semester of college, I returned back home to meet up with some HS friends. Though they had all been posting photos on Facebook that seemed like they were enjoying themselves, when we got together it was apparent that many of them didn’t like school and missed home. I think at many times social media can remain deceiving, and many people will want to know the truth of what their peers have been up to. For that reason, I think reunions will continue to happen and people will want a face-to-face interaction after many years.

  6. gabcandelieri · ·

    Awesome post! Having worked for BC’s University Alumni social accounts last year, I had to update each chapter’s Facebook photos constantly. Based on my experience, it seems like chapters located in the same geographic area get together for BC game-watching parties and more formal meetings more than we may think. In terms of consolidating BC classes by graduation years, I think the fact that most people join their year’s Facebook groups upon receiving their admission letters is a great way to stay connected. Even after graduation we have multiple groups on Facebook, maybe even Group Me chats, with BC alumni that can help us stay in the BC network. Social media definitely takes the mystery out of reunions, but face to face contact with acquaintances could give us a peek into the person behind the social persona.

  7. Such an interesting post!! I’ve never though of social media’s effect on high school or college reunions. But the downturn in attendance and excitement honestly makes so much sense. If I know all the updates about everyone I went to high school with who are friends with on Facebook, what is the point of the big reunion and finding out what happened to Susan, when I saw a picture of her kids in my new feed yesterday. What I do think social media helps to foster though, which you highlight with the Cornell example, is tighter communities. I may not want to go to the formal reunion hosted by my school, but I would want to go to the casual events in the cities like NYC or Boston, where alumni put together and you can stop by to just enjoy a drink, or BC alumni “watch parties” in NYC. These are events that weren’t possible with social media and bring communities closer together. There is less pressure on the big reunion because I think there are a lot more little one’s happening along the way. The use of Facebook events and technology also lets you not wait 5 years to hangout with your old high school or college friends.

  8. Yup. I consciously remember skipping my last reunion because I said “I already have Facebook.” I believe my last one was cancelled due to lack of interest, so I don’t think I’m the only one.

  9. I never thought about reunions being ruined by social media, but it’s kind of sad to now think that my high school or college reunion 5-10 years from now may not even happen because everyone already knows what everybody else is doing. However, I have found that while social media does expose a lot of people’s personal lives, the exposure does depend on how open the person wants to be online. So while it might not be a complete surprise what people I went to school with are like 10 years from now, I think it’d still be fun and catch up on the little details in person with people who are more lowkey.

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