A School Reunion.

December 3, 2023

A School Reunion.

May 29, 2023

It’s been a few weeks and I’m still reflecting on Saturday night’s high school reunion. Forty years ago, a group of 84 young women left for university believing they would seize the world. Then last Saturday, 56 of them, exactly 66%, reunited in Sydney, Australia.

The evening was surreal. Women whose faces were mostly recognisable, many with grey hair, wrinkles and new body shapes, but all with the same voices as forty years ago. Forgotten names whose voices brought back the memories from a shared youth. 

One who was too shy to make eye contact. One who still, forty years after the classroom, needed to be the centre of attention. One who shared that school was a sanctuary for her and she dreaded returning home from boarding school in the school holidays. Another who after 25 years of living in London as a successful book publisher had recently returned to a small country town to look after her aging parents; she was feeling lonely, overqualified to find a job and had taken up yoga. And the one who spoke too much, she spoke of her wonderful husband and beautiful life, in words that sounded rehearsed and made me wonder. 

There was a university librarian, an oncologist, a chef at a large hospital, a nurse, a marketing consultant, a mindfulness coach, a tech consultant, two architects, a singer in a band with wonderfully multi-coloured hair, and a medical practitioner working at a maximum security men’s prison. Then there was one whose husband insisted that she abandon her career to look after their children, who had since left home leaving her with a sense of emptiness. A government banker and a farmer on a large remote sheep station. 

One was sent by two other friends who were not brave enough to come themselves, to whom she will report back next week. One who two years ago left her husband of thirty years, saying “it was the best thing I’ve ever done” and who has fallen in love again. And one who spent the entire evening as a waitress, passing around food to disguise her nervousness. 

Many had travelled to Sydney for the reunion from rural towns whose names I recall from my childhood. Some from Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. One from the US who I last saw at her wedding 24 years ago. Me from Vancouver. Some live in the same Sydney suburb, walking distance from our high school, but they have not met for forty years. 

The memories, when they flowed, were of misbehaving in class and being sent to the headmistress, of the best and the worst teachers, of spectacular sporting successes and failures, and of all the firsts: boyfriends, smoking and drinking. Repeatedly I heard the recounting of a story about an event that most of the characters had totally forgotten, but whose memory had clearly been significant for the storyteller.

How many times did I hear women saying to each other “You look just like your mother…”, without realizing that we are in fact a lot older than our mothers were forty years ago, when we were at high school.

The most common questions, in this order, were: 

  • Where do you live?
  • Do you have children? If so, how many and what gender?
  • What do you do?

Many of us have grown children, one has a 12 year-old; there were also at least two grandmothers amongst us.

With those who I’m fond of, I dug further:

  • What are you passionate about? 
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What do you most like about your life? 
  • What are your plans for the future?

And unexpectedly, more sharing occurs: an unexpected passion for directing theatre, for singing in a choir, the corporate lawyer now exhilarated by working for a children’s charity, the serial divorcée (“I’ll probably keep my third husband”), and the common sadness from the loss of many of our parents. 

Three of our cohort are no longer with us: cancer and two suicides. This seems excessive, but perhaps is an average statistic. It leaves me pondering, grateful for still being alive. 

Post reunion, it’s the strange coincidences that I reflect upon most… three of us, old friends meeting again after more than twenty years, wearing the same Skagen watch. And a message from one of our class members apologizing that she could not attend but sending “saludos de Baja”. When I responded to her message, I discovered that she lives in Todos Santos, a ten-minute drive from my new, remote Mexican home. I promised to report back to her on the reunion, in person, when I return.

-Gabriela  

Gabriela Domicelj is an MEA alum, past APAC chapter lead and now the Chief Commercial Officer at MEA. She’s also a management consultant turned midlife explorer. She loves collaborating with creatives, working together to support organizations to do good in the world. Gabriela is an Australian who lived in Asia for eighteen years and whose geography now straddles Mexico (Baja), the United States (Santa Fe) and Canada (Vancouver).

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