My school reunion filled me with dread. Then something strange happened (2024)

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Kate Halfpenny

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When it arrived, the invitation was not unexpected but still created disquiet. Stuck on the fridge with a seahorse magnet, it sent out an invisible pulse with every rummage for raspberries or Fanta within.

Time to text the friends I shared everything with in 1984. Body waves, first Island Coolers, Esprit windcheaters, a passion for Perfect Match, debates about Rob Lowe v Andrew McCarthy (not even really a question).

My school reunion filled me with dread. Then something strange happened (1)

So. Ladies. We going to our 40th school reunion lunch?

There are good reasons high school reunions are fear and loathing scenarios. Not least the reality you’d had great times and friends, but not many you were interested in revisiting over intervening decades.

I had anxiety that teenage insecurities about thighs and bad fringes would be triggered, along with memories of the smell of the bathroom incinerator and the time I faked a faint on camp. Concerns my life went in unexpected post-school directions I didn’t want to explain. The knowledge I needed to apologise to Sue for the drunken 21st speech.

And yeah, had to decide what to wear.

My school reunion filled me with dread. Then something strange happened (2)

That bit was cinchy in the end, once I decided not to die wondering, then decided on a cool sexy look. Derailed on the day by family houseguests and a car flat battery, I had a five-second shower while my grandniece Seren chose olive cargo pants with a silk shirt and ankle boots, no make-up, out the door.

All the way to Korowa in Glen Iris I worried about deodorant. Rendezvoused with my fabulous mate Tordy, marched in as wing women, got our name badges, beelined to the bar.

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What a spin-out, meeting experienced women I’d last seen when we were girls living at home, trying to get our licences and get rid of virginity. Suddenly, we were not far off 60, so far into life and career grooves we’re starting to look beyond. At least one of the 32 who showed up was a grandmother, one a 2024 Archibald Prize nominee (go Jac!).

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I was converted. The reunion is something everyone should try at least once. Don’t worry if you think there’s no point, that you’re not the same person you were then. Nobody is. The high school you is the prototype. The pre-you.

At our lunch, everyone had changed. Kids, careers, loss, love will do that. But the weird thing was that to me, everyone was also always and forever an 18-year-old with flippy hair and a constant laugh, wearing the same dusty shorts every day of the Central Australia trip, some boy’s name spelt out on their pencil case.

High school is a trial of uncertainty and angst, of trying to figure out who you are, how to stand out, how to fit in. At our reunion, none of that mattered. We’re so far down the track, so far beyond peer pressure and needing to prove ourselves, that mostly we just laughed at old memories.

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Jane had the best line of the day: “I married someone I didn’t love, so we’re still good friends.” The wisdom, evolution and truth of that was light years off back in the day.

Even 10 years ago, we would have shown photos of kids and talked Botox and bad bosses, but four decades had brought us full circle back to us.

A couple of things the reunion taught me: that I missed Nicki, gone forever, when the subject of her favourite honey and peanut butter rolls was raised.

That you may think you’re going back for acceptance, but it’s really to reconnect and reminisce.

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That I went to school somewhere with incredible resources – and now a damn cool principal – and that it’s a moral failure most kids don’t have access to that education.

That, as the song goes, it really is later than you think. The years between turning 18 and 58 have gone in what feels like two months.

It’s time to love and be loved, nurture friendships, find purpose and meaning. To embrace the idea of being right here, right now, and knowing how good that is.

Kate Halfpenny is the founder of Bad Mother Media.

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My school reunion filled me with dread. Then something strange happened (2024)

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