This time of year isn’t the official “New Year”, but in many ways, it feels like the start of one. School and college students return after a long summer off, starting new courses. For those who are no longer studying, it’s still a reminder of the old college routine. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why my own year from Vet School has chosen to have its reunions in early October.
We were a small year, by contemporary standards: there were sixty of us, around half male and half female. We all knew each other well, and although we have not all kept in touch regularly, we have enjoyed intermittent college reunions. We have met for most of the significant dates: one year, two years, five years, and then every five years after that. Around 70% of the class generally turn up: enough to guarantee a socially busy weekend.
Many people are ambivalent about such reunions: are then worth going to? There are two polar extreme points of view: are they depressing envy fests, or can they be exhilarating nostalgia trips?
As vets, we are high achievers. We have to score well in our school exams to get into vet school, and then we need to work hard to get through. After that, our jobs have long working weeks, and we can choose to continue to push ourselves, gaining skills and completing further qualifications.
In our daily lives, our success or failure at progressing our career doesn’t matter too much: we just get on with it. But one of the issues with class reunions is that suddenly, we are face to face with people who used to be our peers. We can’t avoid being forced to confess our own progress (or lack of progress) and we have to listen to their tales of conquest. There’s a risk that a social event of this kind can deteriorate into a competition to see who can score the most brownie points for a glittering career.
And the same can apply to personal life comparisons. “What, you aren’t married yet?” is forced to listen to “After the third child, we decided that it was time to get a dog”.
The other side of reunions is that they can be genuine opportunities to reconnect with people who have shared a deeply significant part of your life. Vet school is a challenging, formative time, and it’s easy to forge strong links with those who go through it with you. Vet students tend to work hard and play hard, and there are many happy and memorable events.
A reunion can be an opportunity to forget about the trials and struggles of today, and to escape back into the past, revisiting enjoyable times of your youth.
It can be strange at first seeing people who you may not have met for a decade or more. Physical appearances change: we all put on weight, men lose their hair and everyone starts to wrinkle and sag. I was given a useful tip before attending a recent reunion: if you don’t immediately recognise someone, look away from them, and focus on listening to their voice. Voices tend to change far less compared to physical appearances.
My own experience is that when you first see a long-absent colleague, they seem very different, but within half a minute, the years seem to drop away. It’s as if their old, younger personality emerges, and you find yourself chatting as if neither of you have changed at all.
My belief is that we humans are social creatures, deeply influenced by the culture around us. Reunions offer a chance to revisit a key part of our lives, helping us to slot the good and bad aspects of those years into the appropriate filing slots of our mature psyche.
A balanced view
Yes, I am a fan of reunions. IF you find yourself in a conversation that’s headed for an envy fest, shift a gear and change its direction. Remind the speaker of the time they were late for a lecture or the party that they held in their flat.