because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

REFLECTING ON MY 30th COLLEGE REUNION

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Hobart & William Smith Colleges

When one of my former roommates suggested a bunch of us “girls,” get together for a weekend, I jumped at the idea. Monique found an adorable, affordable B&B in the middle of Geneva, an old house that was big enough for each of us to have our own individual bedroom with enough shared space to make for a communal experience. And it was wonderful reconnecting with my old friends, women I hadn’t seen in nearly three decades.

We curled up on couches, stayed up late in our jammies, catching each other up on our lives, our loves and our losses, our successes and our failures.

And that part was wonderful, intimate and restorative.

But then it was time to venture out to the “larger” campus to connect with other alums celebrating their reunions as well.

In general, I think I do pretty well socially, but last weekend, I was forced to confront something that I don’t think I processed until this weekend.

While Hobart & William Smith Colleges was a good fit for me intellectually, socially, I was a complete misfit.

I grew up in a family where alcohol did not exist. With the exception of a very infrequent glass of wine, neither of my parents drank alcohol. We never had beer in the house, and their basement “bar” still displays the same unopened bottles of liquor that were there when I graduated from high school. We just didn’t drink. The few times where I’d tried alcohol in high school, I ended up feeling afraid and alone. It just really didn’t agree with me, so I evolved into the designated driver and avoided most social activities that revolved around alcohol.

And then I went to college.

I remember my first night on campus. It was a warm September night, and all the girls in my dorm dressed up in pretty summer dresses to attend a fraternity party.

“It’ll be fun,” someone told me.

This one is not done yet. Follow me at RASJACOBSON ART to watch me finish her.

So I put on a dress and followed along.

That night, in that frat house, I was ogled and objectified. Men made unwanted advances, touching my hair and my body — which was bad enough — but watching my female classmates consume so much alcohol that they were literally falling down drunk was worse.

I didn’t know how to talk to people who were drinking so excessively, people who were so over the top sloppy that they didn’t respect my boundaries.

Meanwhile, they all seemed so comfortable — drinking & laughing & talking about lacrosse.

It was like that most weekends and, eventually, I stopped attending those types of parties altogether, opting to study in my room or in the library.

Last weekend, I had to confront my social anxiety around alcohol consumption.

While most people were much better behaved then they were thirty years ago, at one point, I was so overwhelmed by all the drinking and so underwhelmed by all the small talk, I retreated to the basement to regroup.

While I was hiding out down there making friends with a row of washing machines, a former classmate approached me aside to remind me how I’d helped him to edit several English essays which were difficult for him. (Though I have no recollection of doing this, it sounds like something I’d do.) He said that with my help, he went from earning C’s to A’s. I was stunned.

We continued to talk about what we’ve been doing since graduation – our families, our work – and eventually we went back upstairs. Though he disappeared back into the throng, and I stayed on the fray, I felt seen and heard.

I imagine he has no idea how much that interaction meant to me.

During that conversation, my former classmate told me I’d made a difference in his life.

And it rocked my world because, quite frankly, most of the time I don’t feel very significant at all.   

When I left the party shortly thereafter, it was dark outside. There was a rabbit on the lawn, sitting perfectly still on the grass. Her fur was grey in the moonlight and she looked alert and a little afraid. I don’t know if anyone else saw her, but I did.

I often feel like I move through the world like that rabbit — off by myself, on alert, ready to skitter away, secretly hoping someone will notice me.

Back at home, I was eager to get into my studio.

I knew I wanted to honor the weekend, that moment in particular.

This piece isn’t finished yet, but when it is, it may have to live with me for a little while as a reminder that all creatures, great and small, are here for a reason — and that we are all truly connected to one other.

Do you attend reunions? Why or why not? Has anyone ever said something to you that moved you to tears — in a good way? What was it?

 

11 thoughts on “REFLECTING ON MY 30th COLLEGE REUNION

  1. That sounds like a profound experience for you, Renee! I’ve never attended a college reunion (though I loved my school and my professors, and was in a bunch of clubs, I only had a handful of friends, none of whom I stayed super-close with). I did attend my 30-yr high school reunion, just to see what it was like. It was good to catch up with a few friends, exchange Facebook info, and then move on. I’m not interested in going to future reunions.

    I know how you feel about all this. While I can interact easily with others, it drains me – especially party situations. I think you and I and some others are more of the quiet observers. We’re on the periphery, in the world but not necessarily of the world, if you know what I mean. It can feel lonely at times, and sometimes we can wonder what the heck is wrong with us, but I think we’re compensated with gifts of insight and understanding – seeing patterns and picking up on things that others miss. I’ve come to actually enjoy who I am, and I have no regrets.

    Hugs to you, sweetie…finish that bunny!
    ~Kathy

    1. Kathy, your words are EXACTLY where I have landed with all of this. I am a seer. I see things others do no. I am intuitive and I see through a lot of the bullshit. I see people’s insecurities, and I don’t understand why people choose to medicate themselves with drugs and alcohol. Id rather make myself vulnerable and connect on a deeper level. I understand we are all on our own journeys, and — in my journey — I tend to be a truth teller. That is just who I am, and I now understand that there consequences that come with being a truth teller. I’m good with myself again, and getting stronger every day. Like you, I am coming back to myself and remembering the parts of myself that I actually enjoy. And , like you, I will not be attending any more reunions…and that’s okay, too! Thanks Kathy!

  2. I’ve been to all but one of my high school reunions, mainly because these are people I grew up knowing and was comfortable with. I made the mistake of attending college some 1200 miles away from home (Duke University). The main aim of the faculty and administration was to try to make socialists out of impressionable students. I wasn’t that impressionable and resented that emphasis.

    In social situations, I’m much like your rabbit unless I know a fair number of the people ahead of time. At big parties, I’m the guy sitting in the corner wondering why he came. I had maybe half a dozen friends in my dormitory, and that was about it.

    I’ve never had any desire to go back or to socialize with the people in my class – especially since I don’t know what class I was in. I entered with the class of ’65 but finished in 3 years with the class of ’64. I have 1 Facebook friend from Duke – a girl I knew and liked but never had the guts to ask out.

    About the only time I like my alma mater is during basketball season. I can be proud of the teams.

    1. David, thank you so much for saying this. I have a feeling that a lot of us “writerly” types feel this way since we tend to observe things in a different way than others. I can honestly tell you that OI’d gladly hang out with my girlfriends any day of the week, but the actual reunion? I will not be attending another. No need. And that’s okay.

  3. Renee,
    It’s been a long time since I started following your blog… glad to read this piece. Thank you. Truth – I have yet to attend a reunion. I live a thousand miles from where I grew up and my fortieth high school reunion is next year and I hope to go. A couple of years ago I went to lunch with a couple of high school classmates – we knew each other and had reconnected via Facebook and they had read my blog. Over lunch – they drank wine and I drank water – we shared memories and they remembered remembered many of the blog posts I had written (as an adult) and they urged me to continue to write and post to Facebook – because what I had to say resonated with them. In a way what I had to say made a difference – it was positive and uplifting. The last year has been a blur – health and family issues took time away from me or rather health and family were important and I am looking forward to getting back to writing more regularly. I am looking forward to reading more from you, too. Good to see you are bouncing back – one step at a time, it is how it’s done. Peace.

  4. Hi Renee, you know JC and I have begun an annual trip to alumni weekend at caz. We do not participate in any activities and only spend an hour or two on campus We walk around quietly, talk about the past, friends and experiences and where we are now in our lives. I think we do this because it’s a nice reflection. Where we were and how far we have come.

    1. I do know that. I just don’t think I need to convene with the others as much as Monique, Betsy, Lisa, Zal and hopefully Cindy and Susan. And we’ve all come a lonnnnng way baby.

  5. Absolutely, gorgeously written.

    Renee, I LOVED this SO damn much.

    xx appreciation and understanding from Duluth, MN.

    1. Thank you so much! Can you believe I’m writing again? I never thought it would happen, but here I am. Thank you for your appreciation and understanding …and your constant support! I REALLY hope to meet you some day! That’ll be one helluva hug.

  6. Hi Renee,
    I’m just glancing through these responses but after reading yours I took a quick thought back to my HWS days.
    In high school I was on campus in my Jr and Sr year and had decided early to attend HWS where my cousin attended already. I was very excited in my freshmen year but that soon died as I seemed to be very different from both the white students as well as the black students who mostly were from the BRONX and NYC.
    I attended one ridiculous frat party where I learned all about gatoring which I thought was disgusting!
    There was so much to transition and find my place but lots of times when I wasn’t in the library, my dorm or working at SAGA, I found refuge at my godmother’s apt which was on Pulteney Street near the “Super Dorm.”
    I have kept two close friends although we usually text and occasionally are face to face.
    Many of my weekends I traveled on the bus with the basketball team as their scorekeeper which was a lot of fun for me because my very best friend from high school was on the team and I looked forward to bonding with him on those trips.
    That was actually my favorite memory at HWS.
    I was desperate to find a way to survive. I was more comfortable with the people of Geneva more than on campus.
    My family was proud that I attended and graduated. I was the first generation to attend college and a role model for my siblings and cousins.
    Because I was born in Geneva it will always have a special feeling to me.
    While I was there though I dreamt of getting out of there and into the REAL WORLD!!
    I wouldn’t call myself a misfit because I think I was just a little bit more mature than a lot of other classmates but that’s me spinning the positive

    1. Hi Vicki! I didn’t know you were born and raised in Geneva! I love it there, and I have lots of great memories. After college in a small town, I was ready to spread my wings, too…but eventually I flew back to the same area to set up my nest. We really need to get together for lunch!

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