As a college student at Northwestern University, I couldn’t understand why massive numbers of alumni kept returning to campus for ballgames and reunions. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved my time in Evanston, Ill., but our teams were not very successful back then and the weather was horrific for a decent chunk of the year. By the time I graduated, I felt truly ready to move on to the next phase of life. I was sure I was not going to be a hanger-on like the Wooderson character in that classic Richard Linklater film Dazed and Confused, played to stoner perfection by Matthew McConaughey—the “old” guy still latching on to the high school kids.
So, I graduated and moved on. The years passed, and although I kept in touch with my college friends, it wasn’t until my 15th reunion that I really felt pulled to go back. The friends I had lived with our senior year in a dumpy, off-campus house on Gaffield Place started up an email chain. Not one of us was living anywhere near the Chicago area, but we all decided we’d make the trek back to our old stomping ground. We arranged to stay together in a hotel suite so none of us would have to feel awkward walking into a room full of people alone. At that 15th reunion party in 2006, we were surprised by how happy we felt being reconnected with so many classmates. We’ve gone back every five years since.
Reunion season was an obvious casualty of Covid-19 during 2020, and we had no idea what to expect for our reunion event this fall. I joined the organizing committee last spring to keep up and to give my opinion about what was being planned. It was not a heavy lift, and it was fun to connect with the other committee members. Last year’s reunion class was also invited back this fall to make up for their Covid cancelation.
Throughout the spring and summer months, I was convinced the whole thing would be quashed by the Delta variant. Fortunately, it wasn’t, and we had a perfect fall weekend to celebrate. Alumni came from all over the country. We donned our NU colors and cheered from stands as our Wildcats defeated Rutgers, and then we proceeded to party like it was 1990/1991! I had a total blast, and it was an extra bonus to see friends from the class ahead of us, many of whom we hadn’t seen since their graduation 31 years ago. I’ve been walking around in an exhausted purple haze since I returned home, still on a high from a memorable weekend with lifelong friends.
If you’ve been skipping your class reunions, I would urge you to reconsider. You might surprise yourself by connecting with people you didn’t even realize you’ve missed. It made us feel quite young and giddy to be back in the place where we had first met, hanging around all the people we knew way back when. Each time we go, we develop new rituals (this time, a Tik Tok video, eek!) and deeper bonds with every passing year. As my friends and I take our obligatory photos in front of that still-decrepit house on Gaffield Place where we spent such a pivotal year of our young adult lives, we wonder where the time goes and how that run-down house could possibly still be standing as so many other pillars of our youth have fallen away.
Taking a weekend away with friends is always refreshing, but there’s something truly unique and soul-revitalizing about being able to gather in a place that meant so much with friends who are as precious as ever. As Shakespeare put it: “To me, fair friend, you never can be old, for as you were when first your eye I ey’d, such seems your beauty still.” And in the words of Wooderson, that more contemporary bard: “Alright, alright, alriiiiiiight…”