09/20/2010 12:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Retrospective on High School Reunions: The First Years Last Forever

"Ah, the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts." With that quote in an email, a man I met in nursery school invited me to a reunion for a high school I didn't attend. He wrote, "I know you didn't go to high school with us, but some of us are trying to track down old friends we loved and cared about from our childhood and youth who were in that age group...Care to come along?"

And for me, the answer was yes! The reunion was this past weekend and as we drive away from my childhood hometown, 550 miles from where we now live, I am flooded with memories, old and new.

Some people avoid reunions at all costs. We worry about being judged for our lack of accomplishments and there was some of that. But for many of us, being judged was of little consequence, several decades later. We are old enough not to care much any more.

Some of us worry about being stuck in reputations long gone -- the stereotypes of ourselves and our families from the past -- and there was some of that too, but for many of us, we could shrug that off as well.

And some people worry about seeing our friends grow older, thus looking at ourselves in the mirror and seeing a reflection we would rather not contemplate. And there was some of that, the feeling that we have our histories written on our bodies, for good or for ill. But for many of us, that was manageable.

I know I felt the pleasure in seeing faces that are so indelibly written into my mind that it was breathtaking. As they walked by, their names fired in my memory...oh, there is Walter, Nancy, Harriet, Martha, Sally, Frank and Jim. But even more so, their voices came back, like familiar and comforting songs from my childhood that I want to listen to, again and again.

I also felt that pleasure in the honest conversations, short and long, about how we each are dealing with this stage in our lives.

And the surprise? It was how strongly preschool teachers affected our feelings about ourselves. One man told me about how terrible a teacher made him feel about himself when he was four or five. As an example, he talked about a time when we were supposed to make finger paintings of the American flag and he couldn't paint within the lines. And another classmate began to feel she was a misfit because of comments a teacher made to her. As an example, she wanted to color something purple and the teacher told her no, this object wasn't purple. She said that it took her long time to overcome that judgment.

Memories of off-handed comments from teachers! Memories that have affected these adults for years! If anyone doesn't think the early years are important, doesn't believe the reams of reports and research on their enduring impact, I would love them to have been at my reunion. These small moments with a teacher from our childhoods make a huge difference -- as a video of a group of 30-somethings re-unioning with their preschool teacher reveals. (password: suzanne)

Suzanne Carothers from New Screen on Vimeo.

"The first years last forever" is more than a slogan on a coffee mug. Yes, "the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."