October 2022: Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School Class of 1982 40th Reunion
A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs, president, Class of 1982 — To say that it’s astonishing to have graduated from high school 40 years ago is a tad trite, for I know that sentiment was uttered by almost all of the classmates who attended our 40th reunion on Saturday, Oct. 15.
Credit for the phenomenal party at the old Lee Tires facility in Conshohocken, PA, goes to our yearbook editor Debbie Bolotin Schwab and her committee — Michele Bondi Stingle, Ruth Jamison Fazio, and Monica Cardamone Palatano.
Debbie and the team have been spearheading our reunions since 2012, and I believe that I speak for all of the senior class officers — who were tasked with this duty but dropped the ball — that we are eternally grateful!
Seeing a room filled with old friends was a remarkable experience. Older and hopefully wiser, we had the chance to catch up on how our lives played out.
And as I was driving home, I realized how many people I hadn’t gotten to talk to; and how many conversations got cut short because another old friend pulled me away. My guess is that others felt the same, including classmates who weren’t able to attend.
So, we cooked up a plan with Debbie and the reunion committee.
In the meantime, we invite you to take a look at photos from the reunion shot by my daughter, videographer Anna Gibbs.
The Power of Reunion
In her article, How High School Reunions Connect Us With the Past, journalist Ellen C. Caldwell interviewers scholars and poets who share how these gatherings have become an important part of managing and presenting identity.
She explains: “High school reunions have long been important markers of time, integral parts of managing and presenting identity. Of course, many have noted that reunions have lost some of their oomph in the time of social media. But the practice continues nonetheless, and in Vered Vinitsky-Seroussi and Robert Zussman’s 1996 study of high school reunions, they argue that reunions “are a critical vantage point from which to make sense of issues of identity in contemporary America.” Because reunions are anchored in the past, they give scholars a unique opportunity to study “an intersection of the past with the present,” offering a view into how people construct their own inward and outward senses of identity.
Ellen adds: Vinitsky-Seroussi and Zussman note some of the rituals that have become part of reunion attendance, describing these “remarkably extensive” preparations, including getting hair and makeup done, purchasing new outfits, going on diets, and even quitting, finding or inventing jobs or relationships (see Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion). All of these preparations, they argue, are “testimony not only to the emotional power of reunions but, more importantly, to the extent of self-conscious impression management.” Put simply, people attempt to manage how they present their identity via visual and verbal cues.
In 2008, poet and MacArthur fellow A. E. Stallings reflected upon the dilemmas that reunions (and the passage of time) pose in a reflective poem that she wrote on the eve of her twentieth high school reunion (which she didn’t attend):
“And some who will never arrive at this date
Here in the distant future where we wait
Still surprised at how
We carry with us the omnipresent and ever-changing now.
We wince at what we used to wear,
Fashion has made ridiculous the high hubris of our hair…”
Journalist Donald M. Murray also wrote a poem about high school reunions, reflecting upon the metaphorical “sharks” of his youth (which today we might call “mean girls” or bullies).
His poem reveals how we can all take the form of our enemy, in the shark tank that was high school:
“I still swim that corridor
at North Quincy High
river of sharks…”
Whether one attends or not, it is clear that reunions offer a chance to reflect upon and to continue shaping and interpreting one’s sense of self.
High School Reunions and the Management of Identity
By Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Robert Zussman, State University of New York at Stony Brook
Organized around an intersection of the past with the present, high school reunions confront those who attend with discontinuities in their own lives as well as the lives of others. Based on observations of and interviews with attendees at five reunions, we argue, contrary to many claims about the contemporary segmentation of the self, that reunion goers can construct accounts of coherent lives by referencing “true selves” independent of appearances.
Although reunion attendees may attempt to manage impressions by controlling information about themselves, these efforts are limited by attendees’ efforts to sustain convictions of their own integrity. However, these convictions also depend on accounts, albeit those directed inward. Moreover, the maintenance of this conviction depends on the successful “neutralization” of others’ judgments.
Although episodic and unevenly attended, high school reunions are a critical vantage point to make sense of identity issues in contemporary America. Although reunions occur in the present, they are organized around an aspect of the past. As a result, reunions are not only an invitation to account for one’s life but virtually a mandate to do so. Moreover, reunions are organized around an aspect of the past in which one’s participation is unusually diffuse. High schools, at least in the United States, are not simply about academic performance but about the general coming of age.
And as a further result, the accounts men and women provide of themselves at reunions tend to account not only for what they have done but also for who they are. They become, in short, an account of identity.