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What I Learned From Attending my 40-Year School Reunion (HINT: It Was a Positive Experience!)

high school students walking up the stairs

If I had been approached ten years ago to attend a reunion at my old high school, I would have run for the hills as fast as I could! On my last day of high school, I swore I would never have anything to do with the place or my fellow students again.


However, I hesitated when I was hunted down through Facebook last year and asked if I would like to join the 40-year School Reunion Group Chat. I didn’t run but instead mulled over the pros and cons of getting involved with something I had kept well away from for nearly 40 years.


After a few days of thinking about this hurdle, a member of the organizing committee reached out and asked if he could add me to the group. I thought, “What the heck? Let’s do this” and what unfolded in the following months became a healing journey for me.


Why I Never Wanted to Go Back to My High School Years

I was one of many families who left Zimbabwe to start a new life in South Africa. As a teenager, it was the worst thing that could have happened to me – I loved my home country and it devastated me to be leaving behind family that I loved.


I was angry, scared, and daunted by the fact I was enrolled to go to a co-ed school. I felt like a misfit as I started the second half of my first year of high school in an enormous place full of street-savvy guys and girls.

I felt like I had been thrown into a cauldron of simmering and at times, raging hormones as teen students swarmed around me all day long.


It was an exhausting and frightening experience for me coming from a sheltered environment. When I heard I had to move to a new school opening up the road from our home the following year, I didn’t know what to make of it.

All I knew was that it would be way smaller and that we would be the first class to open the school. However, that didn’t stop me from feeling like an outsider.


The rest of my high school years were spent keeping my head down and avoiding eye contact with other students to protect myself from the constant bullying. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t.

I dreaded going to school every day and was relieved when I could get home at the end of the day and retreat to my safe space – my bedroom.


How Saying Yes Started a Journey of Healing

Agreeing to join the school reunion group chat led me down a path of healing I never imagined possible. After the initial welcomes and hellos from people I honestly couldn’t remember nor recognize, I slowly began to participate in the conversations taking place daily.


Topics ranged from “How many years have you been married?” to “Where do you live now?” with many past students now living abroad. However, it didn’t take long for people to open up and start sharing personal stories from their school days.


One morning I woke up to hundreds of messages that followed after one of the group members opened up about school not being one of his happiest memories. He spoke about the bullies and the challenges of dealing with them.


This was an eye-opener for me and I admired this person for speaking up about something that many students didn’t seem to realize was happening at the time. I decided to share my own experiences at school which included an endless trail of bullying from girls and boys.  


It didn’t take long for other past students to speak up about their experiences during our school years and some of the stories were heartbreaking. But, so much healing takes place when stories are shared and this is what my school reunion group chat and our eventual in-person get-together taught me.


I finally could let go of a traumatic past event that lasted for five years. This seems so inconsequential time-wise and yet, created some of my most formative experiences that were long-lasting and destructive.  

A girl feeling alone


7 Things I Learned From Participating In Our School Reunion


1. Not Every One Had It Good Back Then

Hearing other past students share their stories made me realize I wasn’t the only one struggling with bullies or worse. This changed my whole perspective on each individual and allowed me to appreciate that each one of us (at least most of us) was battling with some traumatic situation alone.


It humbles me that there were teenagers just like me trying to survive in difficult circumstances and yet, we felt we couldn’t share our experiences with others. That saddens me and if only we could have supported each other better back then.


But, I also understand the value of life and human experiences and how they help us to grow and develop if we choose to find the lessons in these situations. Acknowledging my past and focusing on personal growth has allowed me to heal from childhood bullying.

The reunion simply gave me the space to appreciate I wasn’t alone in this struggle and that most of us chose to not be victims.


2. There Were Some Good Guys (and Girls)

During my high school years, I convinced myself not to trust anyone in my high school. I grouped everyone into the “bully” category and chose to keep myself below the radar as much as possible. It worked because a few participants at the reunion commented on “how quiet” I was!


Forty years later and after days of conversations on our school reunion group chat, I began to discover a group of phenomenal human beings. This initially blew my mind and made me wonder why I didn’t allow myself to get to know them better while I was still at school!


But, in hindsight, I understand we all grow up, mostly into wonderful people, and I am grateful I know them now. There’s something extremely powerful and healing knowing that there were good guys and girls at my school and I know them now as pretty awesome adults.


3. Compassion Saves the Day (Always!)

At the reunion get-together, our past head girl gave a speech and she spoke about how much compassion came through in the group chat. She hit the nail on the head! Each of us showed tremendous compassion, understanding, and love for those who shared deeply personal stories from way back then.


As the months continued, we showed compassion for current events and circumstances affecting us in our lives 40 years later. We’ve grown up from the mostly struggling teenagers we were into kind and caring adults.

I think it’s amazing how compassion wins every time and that I’m part of a group worldwide that genuinely cares for the well-being of everyone who belongs to this community.


“If you want others to be happy practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion” – Dalai Lama


4. The Focus Is On Community

Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine belonging to a community that’s made up of my high school peers! But, that’s what has happened and it’s a nice feeling. I may not be as communicative on our group chat nowadays, but I still check in every few days to hear the latest news or enjoy a random joke.


This community grew out of nostalgia for the (good ol’) school days but something better and more meaningful has been the result. There’s very little comparison or up-staging (which most of us fear about school reunions) but instead, people are simply grateful to reconnect and support each other.


When we belong to a community that cares we are seen and heard. That’s all most of us want when we share our pain, express our deepest desires, or share something magical. But, out of all of that comes deep healing which is the power of belonging to a compassionate community.

Three people connecting and laughing


5. Most of Us Have Suffered Some Heartbreak

In the past 40 years, most of us have suffered some form of heartbreak be it through divorce, abuse, rape, loss of people we love, or terminal illnesses. This type of life experience normally has a profound effect on people and changes their perspective on people and life.


Sharing this common ground with many people on the reunion group chat prevents the need to highlight WHO is making the most money or HOW successful we’ve been career wise.

Rather, it builds an opportunity to connect and show kindness toward each other.


“Pain makes you stronger, fear makes you braver, heartbreak makes you wiser”

– Drake Quote


6. Old Narratives No Longer Matter

Very quickly, in the few weeks of engaging in the group chat, I realized I no longer needed to hang onto my old narrative that was my school days. Yes, it helps that I’ve spent the past 15 years shifting these narratives. But physically visiting my old school and meeting past students finally allowed me to firmly release what no longer was my story.


Tremendous healing takes place when you can let go of stories that no longer serve you. That’s what this school reunion has done for me and I don’t think I’m alone in saying this. Changing your story is vital for personal growth and development – find out more by watching the video below.



7. The Emergence of Quality Friendships

If you can let go of the old narrative, show compassion, and have an open mindset, amazing things can happen. One of the benefits of reunions decades after you have left school is connecting and building quality friendships with those who share something in common with you.


While it was a small group of us who finally met up in person, I believe we all connected on some level and I feel that most of us walked away feeling we’ve made new friends.

For those who couldn’t attend the event physically, we have connected online and I for one, have made an incredible friend I wouldn’t have done otherwise. This bonding encourages healing on so many levels.


Final Thoughts

I don’t think I’m alone when it comes to thinking twice before attending a school reunion. These events trigger a range of emotions and memories many of us would prefer to forget. However, my personal experience has surprised me and I have no regrets accepting to become part of this life event.


If you’re trying to decide whether to go to your next school reunion or not make sure you’re willing to have an open mind and can let go of a part of you that no longer serves you. Go for the right reasons and only if the experience offers you closure and healing if your school days weren’t happy ones.


Most of all, rely on your gut feeling – if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right for you.



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