I've been called Peter Pan more times than I can remember. After graduating, I decided to spend a summer in my college town, something I'd never done before but had always heard was amazing. With a college degree in hand, and no job prospects to speak of, I decided to stay just for the summer and then return home to Wisconsin and look for work. That summer turned into taking a job that "would just be for a year" and now I find myself, five years later, still living where I went to school.
Campus was different yes, the faces changed as seniors graduated and first years stepped onto the hill. I liked to tell people that because of where I worked, I got paid to be a college student. I adapted, thrived, and loved all the new faces I met, while bidding farewell to those that left. Of course friends returned, and it was fun to watch them marvel at the new buildings and construction, but we talked about how life would never quite be like those "best years of our lives." Well that may be true, but there is one weekend a year where it comes pretty damn close.
I just had my fifth year reunion. As a local, people kept asking me "You still live in town right? Are you still going to reunion?" I did think about it, about the cost of attendance, would I really get anything out of it since I did live here, and kept in contact with most people or knew what they were doing over Facebook. I'd also gone to reunion every year since I'd graduated because of how easy it was for me to just walk from my apartment. In the end, the answer of course was a resounding YES! Why wouldn't I go? It had been nine years since we all set foot on campus for the first time, and some people I hadn't seen since we graduated.
There was something different about being on campus again after I finished work and headed over to check in. Walking into the residence hall and registering with the student clerks I was warmly welcomed back to campus. "I've never left," I warmly replied with a smile. But really the clerk was right. I'd been in that building just the week before but now it did feel different.
I had read some pieces about how social media may kill off reunions -- if we already know what's going on with our friends and classmates over the Internet what's the point of spending time and money to see them? In an age of Facebook, we think we're all connected, but are we? The first thing most of us did at reunion was play the five minute elevator life pitch game. Would we have to do this if we were so connected? This is the magic of reunion, providing a real physical presence that we as humans crave. It's the intangible feeling we get when we're in the presence of our community, that spirit and comfort of belonging to a tribe, and I felt it the moment I checked in. Peter Pan had found his Lost Boys (and Girls) once again.
It was an amazing weekend. Full of the same shenanigans we used to get into as students, except now as alumni we didn't have to hide it quite so much. In addition to reconnecting with my own class, I met more of the greater alumni community as a whole -- one day I hope to be as spry as the awesome alumnae sitting next to me on the bench, back for her 65th reunion! We all participated in the rituals of our tribe: visiting our sacred spaces, the favorite libraries and campus hangout spots, the place we always napped or where we went streaking that one time. We gathered to hear homilies, the lectures from professors and presidents, from our peers doing amazing things in the world. At night we sang our hymns, our college songs and skits. We did it all again for feeling of remembering those "best years of our lives" and reconnecting with the others in our tribe. We even gave our tithes, our class gifts to support the next generation to follow in our footsteps.
Seeing all my class there just renewed in me what I love so much about my past and how it's shaped my future. A Facebook post just can't compare to feeling the sun on your face as you walk through the quad or hugging a friend you hadn't seen in five years. Some argue that reunions are unnecessary, just a way for schools to pinch the pockets of alumni. But it's so much more than that. It's a presence that you cannot fully replicate online, a way for us to go back to Neverland, that place in our hearts that needs to be reawakened every once in awhile.
So if you're debating whether or not to spend the time/money to make the trek back to your old campus for a reunion, ask yourself this: Why wouldn't you want to relive "the best years of your life?"
To my fellow Cornellians, I can't wait to see you all back on the Hill next year.