06/21/2014 11:16 am ET Updated Aug 21, 2014

Why Go to Your College Reunion?

If you return to high school or college years later for your reunion, you're likely to experience one of three common reactions. Of these, two are sufficiently unproductive that you might as well skip the event altogether. In contrast, the third option is sweet beyond words, and well worth making the time and taking the trip.

No doubt there are other options, or at least variations of them. But at my 25th Williams College reunion in Massachusetts last weekend, my classmates and I experienced and expressed these three perspectives.

  • Option 1: Some people became lost in nostalgia, comparing how much better things were with how things are now. For some of my classmates, things referred to the new buildings on campus that have sprouted from the ground like mushrooms after a rain. For others, things were the social interactions that, while confusing at the time, were ever so much less complicated than our more recent experiences of committed relationships, marriages, divorces and parenthood. Either way, nostalgia holds us in the past and provides fertile soil for comparisons, disappointment and distraction. If it tugs at you, my advice is to resist the pull: stay present, see what is now with fresh eyes and find fulfillment in the richness of experience that encompasses change.
  • Option 2: A few other people regretted having been born into their own time and place, and wished they could have experienced their college years in today's circumstances. This is easy to imagine, especially for those of us whose college years were bound by far more rigid social norms and homogeneity than today's undergraduates. In my time, very few of us qualified under the umbrella of diversity. Our variations fell far short of the rich range of possibilities currently accepted and embraced. Ours was a more muted world compared to today's full color palate, but perhaps we were the bridge to better times. There's no point to dwelling on what might have been; all we know is what was, and the only thing that matters is what is, in our current understanding. Today, Williams College is so much more and so much better than 25 years ago and having attended my reunion, I inherit the satisfaction and pride that marks its growth -- and mine.
  • Option 3: Most of us realized that our experiences then and now lie on the same continuum, affirming the enduring value of education in the evolution of our lives. This weekend, the transitions back and forth across time were easy and weightless. The social nonsense of the past lifted like mist across the years, and instead, a sense of connection pervaded the space. There was a precious (and unforeseen) joy in finding each other alive and thriving, because we have crossed the years together and remember a time that is increasingly distant. There was also a reframing of memories attached to the place, a sense of reclaiming the campus from the shadows of past struggles and pain. We were so very young back then, and could not know that (or how) our perspectives would change: the dormitories look so small now, and the open spaces of the horizon are somehow fuller.

To be totally honest, I never expected to return to my college, and only attended the reunion because an inspiringly energetic and organized classmate wisely cast the line of invitation until she hooked me and reeled me in. I am so very glad she fished so widely, and brought half our class home.

Whatever the nature of your experience in high school or college, I strongly urge you to return to the people and places of your past mindfully -- not for the sake of the past, but to touch the richness of the present. These people and places continue, as do our relationships with them. What remains raw can heal, and what was marvelous then can evolve now. Graduation is neither an indelible end nor a totally fresh beginning: it is a turning point inextricably linked with what came before, and followed, and is yet to come.