Next weekend I’m going to my 50thcollege reunion. I went to a women’s Catholic college in the 60’s, Newton College of the Sacred Heart. In those days, single sex schools, for those who’ve forgotten or are too young to know or remember, except for big state universities, were the norm. Harvard undergrad was men, as was Yale, Brown and Dartmouth. Women went to their sister schools, i.e. Radcliff, Pembroke, or one of the “seven sisters.” Most of these women’s colleges, Catholic or otherwise, have closed or merged with men’s schools. Newton merged with Boston College in 1974.
But my reunion is just my class, or what remains of the original 225 women.
Although it was a small school and I knew everyone by sight, the school was cliquey. I imagine most women’s schools were. Someone once suggested that it was a way to maintain your privacy. You only talked to your friends. I’m not sure if that’s correct, but I do know girls’ schools can be hard places to socialize. You stay within your group.
The other unspoken rule was conformity. This was the mid-sixties, just before the “cultural revolution.” In those days, at least in any school I attended, you never wanted to be different. If you were unable to hide your differences, you were ostracized unless you were super cool. I wasn’t.
In spite of these limitations, I loved college. I was away from home in a beautiful town within easy distance to Boston. I had boyfriends and a social life—which was at the time my primary concern. In hindsight, there was so much I didn’t know or understand. If I had to do it over, I don’t know if I’d have gone to school in such a rarified atmosphere where everyone, at least on the surface, was almost exactly like me and where privilege and a sense of place and decorum were so valued. What I do know is that it’s part of who I am today and it’s almost impossible to assess the benefits and negatives.
When I went back to my high school reunion I was surprised and charmed to find that the old cliques no longer applied and that everyone was at least as curious about me as I was about them. We all had our stories and not everyone’s life had turned out the same. There were some widows, some who’d never married, and because it’s a Catholic high school, some who became nuns and some who still were.
But although we weren’t all alike, we had that common high school experience, those values that had been emphasized all four years, that made coming together in some ways like a family reunion. We discovered, in spite of our differences, we had more in common than not. That was a reality I was not expecting, had never, until that reunion even recognized, and since then have cherished. I may have come from a family with its own values and credos but I also attended a high school that gave a strong message that I’d, unconsciously adopted.
I’m not sure that’s the case with college. I think by the time you’re 18 your core is formed. But I’m open to the idea and certainly curious as to how everyone in my class turned out.
I left Newton an untested immature idealist who then acquired some grit and maturity in my days struggling in New York City. That time in the city helped me become more confident and aware than I ever felt at graduation. It also has served me well into maturity.
What about my classmates? I can’t be the only one who had a time of struggle. Not everyone’s marriages are easy even if they look that way from the outside. I’m sure some wrestled with their identity, their purpose and/or financially. I’m also assuming some of those classmates won’t be at the reunion. No one wants to return and report they couldn’t do it or never figured it out. I’m guessing most of the attendees who will be there are the success stories or the ones with lots of friends attending so they can surround themselves with those they know and avoid reaching out to those they don’t.
But I’m betting on a few surprises. People who are interesting and who are interested. People who will help me understand what went on during our four years and how it affected our futures. It’s probably the main reason I’m going. I want to know how my classmates turned out and I’m hoping to learn from what they know what it means for the rest of us.