At your tenth reunion, people are just starting the whole business of being an adult; new relationships, young families, the realization of a career that will suck up most of your waking hours. The reunion is all about reliving your glory days, and yearning for the ability to time travel back to them.
At your twentieth, the pressure is on to show you've "made something" of yourself - great kids, wonderful spouse, successful career, two cars in the garage of your nice house. You're on the brink of middle age, scared to death that someone is going to notice. Has twenty years been long enough to erase any trace of the awkward, naive nerd?
By your thirty-fifth reunion, you are just...you. Most mid-life crises are past, children are grown and out (it's a plus if they've given you a passel of grandkids), careers have been changed or abandoned and no one pretends to be anything they are not. It's much more relaxed.
Overall, it was a nice time. Pre-dinner meet and greet (about half the attendees could be instantly recognized; the other half...well, not so much). Leisurely dinner, interspersed with door prize drawings (I never, ever win anything - my name was the first drawn). A class picture. Long time afterwards to hang out in the bar and talk. The bartender thankfully kept the music at a low level (and the Badger game on one of the televisions - naturally, someone had started a pool).
For all that they exhaust me, people also fascinate me. Who would have thought that a classmate who lost his job when a foundry closed would end up going back to school and becoming passionate about hydroponics (and bring the pictures to prove it...)? Several couples have been married since shortly after high school, still together and going strong. Our class president had what she described as a "conversion experience" and changed course to become a chaplain in a hospital/hospice system. One friend is retired after twenty years in the military; another is married to a general. No doctors in our graduating class, but a veterinarian (she was in large animal practice before starting a small animal clinic, so if you have a cow who needs help calving, I can give you her number).
The one thing that came away with me, though, is a bit of melancholy. I don't generally think of myself as middle aged, but all around me last night was undeniable proof that I am. While I look considerably younger than my age, my values and world view to a large extend were forged in the crucible of high school. As the kids today say, these are "my people". Together, we navigated the seas of middle and late adolescence, trying to figure out who we were, where we were going and how best to get there. Some charted a safe course, some braved the rapids. A few are becalmed, and a number have capsized.
But we keep sailing. Here's to the next reunion.