Connecting with old friends. Thinking they looked the same as 25 years ago. A sumptuous meal, followed by fun on the dance floor. Memories to last a lifetime. It was my 25th high school reunion. But I wasn’t there.
I considered flying back to New York for the reunion, but a scheduling conflict came up. So instead, I experienced the reunion 2,900 miles away. On Facebook.
Like many other high school alumni groups, mine created a Facebook Group a number of years ago. It’s a great way to stay connected and keep up to date with classmates. And better yet, it’s a fantastic destination for news, updates, photos and comments about reunions. And as I discovered, it’s particularly useful to those unable to attend.
High School Years: A Special Time
While some look back on their high school years in horror, I consider it a very special time. In high school, we find ourselves in the early stages of transition into adulthood. We discover a bit about ourselves, including some definition of what we want to be when we grow up.
To me, it’s this transition that makes our high school years special – after all, who goes to middle school or elementary school reunions? And, high school, for most people, is associated with “home,” which means that a high school reunion (unlike, say, a college reunion) is a return to your roots – the community in which you grew up.
At the same time, high schools are comprised of well-defined social groups, who interact with each other only when necessary: jocks, geeks, band members, greasers (remember them?) and so on. Twenty five years later, our graduating class is simply one cohesive social group.
Jocks catch up with geeks and vice versa. In fact, the labels are completely gone – today, the jock from high school is a 40-something dad, husband or business person, just like every other classmate.
Facebook as the Online Platform for the Reunion
Why was Facebook such an effective platform to “host” the reunion? Well, just about everyone is on it. We were a graduating class of 296 and the Facebook Group has 160 members (54% of the entire class). That’s a significant percentage, when you consider the fact that some classmates have little desire to connect with us, while others may not be aware of the group’s existence.
As the reunion prepares to rock and roll, this photo is shared with the Facebook Group.
With the Facebook Group, “remote” classmates were able to catch a glimpse of the reunion venue before our attending classmates arrived. Others could post messages and tributes, wishing classmates a good time. Here’s a good example:
Facebook: It’s Real-time and Mobile, Too
Twitter gets the accolades for being that dial tone of the real-time web. But I think Facebook is just as real-time (and mobile) as Twitter. The main difference is that Facebook sharing tends to be “With Friends” as opposed to 100% public (on Twitter).
For many of my friends, being online equates to being “on Facebook.” Whether they’re surfing the web or at work, they’re constantly checking their Newsfeed, as well as the Notifications area (for new comments, Likes, Group postings, etc.). I’ll often post an update on Facebook and as the page refreshes to reflect my post, see an immediate “Like” from a Friend. That’s real-time.
On the evening of the reunion, I had forgotten it was happening. I was in Napa, CA and getting ready for dinner. I checked my phone and noticed a number of new notifications on Facebook. Classmates were posting pictures from the reunion. Neat!
Even though I was 2,900 miles away and 3 hours behind, in some sense, I felt like I was there. Some classmates I recognized right away, while others required me to explore the not-so-deep recesses of my memory. Later, at dinner, I’d see new notifications and view new pictures that were posted.
Facebook as the Online Platform for Our Graduating Class
The Facebook Group allows the conversation to continue year-round. In that sense, the reunion was simply an event, along a continuum of interactions and gatherings among our class. And it’s the Facebook Group that ties it all together.
This week, in fact, a classmate uploaded 60 photos from the reunion. Facebook’s Notifications area alerted me to new activity in the Group. The new photos provided more reasons to continue the conversation, as numerous Likes and comments surfaced. And of course, comments beget further comments.
Facebook as a Proxy for the Reunion
Of course, nothing beats face-to-face interactions, especially with classmates you haven’t seen in 10-20+ years. But for those of us unable to make it in person, Facebook was our only available outlet. Not only could I witness elements of the reunion (in semi-real-time), but I’d see the “presence” of other classmates by way of their Likes and comments.
I’d see a “Like” from a classmate, then click on his profile to see what he’s been up to. I might see pictures of his kids, where he’s worked recently and where he currently lives. I found this similar to the manner in which you “catch up” at an actual reunion.
As reunion attendees met, hugged and exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, some of us “Facebook attendees” sent Friend requests to one another. There was certainly an online element to this 25th Reunion.
On Sunday evening, I returned home from Napa. This time, I turned to my tablet to check out the Facebook Group. There, I was able to view 30+ additional photos from the reunion and skim through all of the Likes and comments left by classmates. Because many of the reunion attendees were busy traveling back home, the most active members of the Facebook Group were those who were not even there (in person).
It was amazing how viewing photos, reading comments and checking out classmates’ Facebook profiles triggered deep and meaningful emotions. When I was done, I truly felt as if I just attended the reunion. And while I’ll try my best to attend the next one in person, the Facebook experience was the next best thing.
In closing, I’d like to share a classmate’s comment, who sums it up perfectly:
Note: I invite you to connect with me on Google+.