By Kristen Banks
Twenty years is a long time, and then again it’s not. I graduated twenty years ago in May, and in some ways it feels like just yesterday. And on the other hand it also feels like a hundred years have passed since my classmates and I walked across the stage together all adorned in royal blue from tassel to toe, shook hands, took pictures and then went our separate ways with the same important piece of paper in hand.
My 20-year class reunion was this last weekend. I had a great time, and I enjoyed catching up with old friends. I was surprised to see how much we had all changed, but even more surprised to find out how much we had not.
This was our second reunion since graduating in the spring of 1998. I attended our first reunion at the 10-year mark as well, but I must confess that I was a little more nervous about going to this second one after so much time had passed. And I almost didn’t go, although I really didn’t have a good excuse not to.
You see, I only went to the school I ended up graduating from for three years total. I transferred from a much smaller private school when I was a sophomore in high school to a much larger public school. So, by the time I showed up on the scene friendships had already been solidified in grade and middle school long before I ever arrived.
When I found out I would be transferring to this much larger, unfamiliar high school, I was afraid I’d have a hard time fitting in and making new friends, which is only natural in these types of situations. The funny thing is, I could not have predicted a better outcome than what I would have in this new unfamiliar setting.
If my new schoolmates thought I was weird or strange they never showed it. I can never remember anyone being anything but warm and friendly to me from the very first day. And by the time I graduated three years later I had loads of new friends. I will forever be grateful that these gracious people welcomed the new girl with open arms.
But, after all this time, and given the fact that we only really had three years of being very active in each other’s lives, I wondered if I’d still fit in. I found myself feeling nervous and insecure at the very thought of reconnecting with my old friends. I wasn’t feeling very interesting or engaging either. I didn’t really even know what to say about myself when asked, besides the standard answers.
What would I talk to them about? Would anyone really want to see me? Since so many of them had been friends for so many more years than we had and had started and finished school together, I wondered if I’d even be very memorable to them at all. But, I finally decided to at least make an appearance, even if it was only for old time’s sake.
As I walked up the steps of the new Durant High School, which was built recently and is much larger and grander than the one I attended way back when, I felt a lot like I did all of those years ago when I was fifteen years old walking up the steps of the old building at my new school on my very first day. I felt really small and intimidated back then as I walked up those big cold concrete steps alone not knowing what I’d face once I got inside. I felt much the same way now twenty three years later, right down to wondering if I’d even have anyone to sit with while I ate my meal.
To my surprise much of my fears faded away as I walked through the big glass doors and was immediately met by a seemingly endless stream of greetings, hugs, and familiar smiles. And as you probably guessed it I had plenty of people to sit by and visit with at our nice Italian meal. I’m not sure why I was worried because everyone welcomed me with open arms the very same way they did when we first met all of those years ago. Time may have changed us in some ways, but it left us the same in all of the ways that really mattered. Our hearts and friendships remained the same even after all of the distance and years.
I always appreciated the fact that my classmates accepted me right off the bat when I first joined their ranks so long ago, even though I dressed awkwardly and my face hadn’t quite got used to my new braces yet. I never could have guessed that I would have been able to make such good friends in such a short period of time, much less retain them after all of these years. True, we may not see each other often, or keep up with each other as much as we should, but I think I speak for everyone when I say I will always smile and look forward to seeing any of them again whether we are at our 30th, 40th, or even 50th reunions because friendship knows no age limit or expiration date. I’m really glad I decided to go this last weekend if for no other reason than to learn this important lesson.
It’s really hard to be the new person in a group of established friends. Meeting new people can be very scary and intimidating. And there is always the chance that you might not be accepted or someone might make you feel uncomfortable. But, I think back to my own situation and know that if I hadn’t been open to meeting new people or had the courage to try something different I might have missed out on a very good experience and many lifelong friendships. I am sure my life would not be as rich today if I had let my own fears and insecurities rob me of these important connections.
“Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints on your heart.” Eleanor Roosevelt