A few weeks ago, I attended an all-class reunion of my high school in Louisville. Thomas Jefferson High School graduated its first class in 1966. Changes in population led to its closure as a high school the year after I graduated, although it continues as a middle school. In its short life as a high school, Thomas Jefferson, or “TJ” for short, won state championships in cross country, gymnastics and football. There were basketball standouts, including Ron Thomas, who played in the NCAA and the pros. Nate Northington, a graduate of that first senior class, was the first African American to play football in the Southeastern Conference. There were National Merit Scholars, and standouts in art and music. Thousands of students passed through the halls of TJ and went on to college, careers and families. For a few hours that afternoon, several hundred of us gathered to share stories and reconnect.
Former students and faculty members gathered in the gym. There were registration tables arranged by graduation year, with name tags and memorabilia. Some people brought their yearbooks, varsity letter jackets and other remembrances. There were tours of the school. There were group photos of classmates, teammates and teachers. There wasn’t a lot of ceremony – you never could hear the PA in the gym very well, anyway. And many of the attendees gathered for lunch and conversation. It was a time to reminisce and to reconnect with classmates and faculty.
Social media has changed a lot of things. People I haven’t seen in years have kept up with each other on Facebook or Twitter. We’ve seen photos of one another’s kids and grandkids, learned about hobbies, travel, careers and life events. We’ve shared postings about family and friends that we’ve lost, and those we have lost contact. “Whatever happened to . . . ?” I didn’t have to say much about moving to Cleveland, or what its like to be empty nesters in a new city, or other things that have happened since the last reunion. Likewise, I knew about a friend’s guitar shop and another’s recent retirement. And, that some classmates missed the reunion because of graduations or weddings in their families. Social media has kept us in touch, or at least made us feel somewhat connected. But there was something I did have to explain.
“Your job, is that a nursing home?”
“No. We provide community supports for older adults and their families.”
“So, like a retirement community?”
“Our focus is on helping people remain at home.”
“So, it’s not a nursing home, then?”
“Our mission is to support caregivers and empower all people to age well and live with dignity through research, consumer-responsive services and client advocacy.” (It’s good to have an elevator speech.) It was an opening to talk about our counseling services, our caregiver supports, the Rose Centers, our affordable housing programs and our research in aging. Benjamin Rose is a great story to share. And in a room full of people who last attended high school forty years ago, it was a story that resonates with many. I heard about a parent’s dementia, how living with MS is changing retirement plans for one couple, and about a family raising a child on the autism spectrum. These were conversations I could not have imagined among our sixteen-year old selves. It was a reminder of how much we have in common, despite, or because, we are getting older.