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September 29, 2011

High School Reunions

by Anne Paddock

Chatter from classmates.com, a message on Facebook or a phone call from a long-lost friend lets you know your high school reunion is coming up and volunteers are needed to organize this nostalgic event.  Organizing a high school reunion is definitely on the top ten list of “The most unselfish things you will ever do”  – along with “having a child” but there is a big difference….the rewards of parenthood increase significantly with the effort put forth – not so with organizing a high school reunion.

Someone always steps forward to organize a reunion and is usually left feeling more like a sucker than a hero. I know, I did. Do yourself a favor and do not volunteer for this thankless task ever. I promise… you will deeply regret taking time away from your family and friends to organize an event for people you haven’t kept in contact with for decades. Better to attend and enjoy the reunion with the friends you have kept in contact with and catch up with those you haven’t seen.  

High school was a blast.  I had fun, too much fun and should have studied a lot more than I did but I was having too good a time with my friends to stop and open a calculus book. And so I was enthusiastic about the prospect of making the reunion happen. Maybe it was because I had been living in Europe for the past decade and felt out of touch with my roots or maybe it was just nostalgia but whatever the reason, I made the serious mistake of volunteering to organize my 30th high school reunion while I was living in Switzerland.

At the time, being across the ocean didn’t seem like an insurmountable problem because of the internet. Compared to my twenty-year reunion when we relied on phone books and a yearbook, finding classmates would be a breeze with Facebook, classmates.com, and  whitepages.com.  I also had a classmate in the military who somehow always managed to find those few graduates that were difficult to locate.  God bless him; he had his ways and he took a burden off my shoulders which I will forever appreciate.

After it was all over, I told my husband that if I ever volunteer to organize a reunion again to please shoot me. To be honest, there were a few classmates that stepped up to the plate and helped – they were truly wonderful – and there were other classmates that appreciated the thousands of hours we spent searching for classmates, making phone calls, writing letters, finding the DJ, dealing with the venue brass, answering e-mails, approving menus, planning party favors and decorations and putting down deposits, assuming personal liability, and covering  the overrun costs,  but many classmates didn’t appreciate the efforts.  In fact, there seemed to be an inverse relationship to the amount of time a classmate helped with the reunion to the amount he or she complained. Certain people stand out in my mind for their outrageous requests or behavior:

The Self-Serving Cheapskate 
N complained the cost of the reunion was too high and didn’t want to pay for an open bar. The hotel would provide an open or a cash bar, but not both so the class was surveyed: the open bar won. The open bar would cost $30 more per person. An anonymous classmate offered to pay the $30 difference for anyone that couldn’t afford to pay the cost. N sent in a check for the lessor amount. A few days later, N tells me in an e-mail how excited she is about the reunion and that she just ordered a new dress. She let someone else partially pay for her and her husband and then ordered a new dress.

Mr. NRA
Mr. NRA put a picture of himself on Facebook aiming a gun at the viewer and wrote some choice words about how bogus high school was. Several concerned classmates contacted me as Mr. NRA was somewhat of a loner in high school. Mr. NRA didn’t plan on attending the reunion but the police were notified anyway. A background check came back clean but the local police staked out the hotel and attended our reunion.

The Know It All
A’s sister e-mails me a few days after the reunion lambasting me and those that organized the reunion for not finding her sister and offering me tips on how to plan a future reunion. That we found 305 out of 325 graduates didn’t register with her. I was tempted to e-mail her back and ask if she really earned a high school diploma.

Mr. Oblivious
M thought the cost of the reunion was too high and asked if we could just rent a room at the Hilton and bring our own pizza and beer in.  Really. I don’t think it occurred to M that hotels are in the banquet business or that the majority of the class didn’t want pizza and beer.

The User
A spreadsheet with every classmate, address, phone, and e-mail was distributed to those that wanted to keep in touch with classmates. M e-mails me and asks if I could add a column to include the names of children.  My first thought:  How creepy is that?  Why would anyone need the name of my daughter? But, I kept my thoughts to myself and asked him why he wanted this information. M told me he wanted to network with classmates because he was looking for investors for his business ventures. The column wasn’t added, children’s names were kept confidential, and M was advised the spreadsheet is for social contacts, not business development.

Mr. Dumb and Dumber 
J calls me and asks if it’s ok if he and another guy wear janitor’s outfits and crash the reunion to fool the hotel and avoid paying. I thought he was joking but he was dead serious.  I explained to J that everyone attending has to pay.

The Fundraiser
J tells me he set up a foundation in honor of his father and wants to make an announcement at the reunion asking for donations.  Although his intentions are honorable, I advise Mr.Fundraiser that the only announcements that will be made at the reunion will be about our classmates and those that are no longer with us.

Ms. Clueless
N approaches me at the reunion party and asks if there is some way I can refund the money back to J because he needs the funds even though he is attending the reunion. I ask N where she would like me to get the money from?

The Entitlement Seeker
I am cc’d on an e-mail from A inviting a former teacher to the reunion at no cost.  I e-mail A to advise her that she can’t invite people to the reunion without paying for them. She e-mails me back perplexed that the Hilton wouldn’t allow teachers to attend for free.

The Picky Eater
N e-mailed me a few days prior to the reunion and told me her husband has dietary restrictions and gave me a 2 page list of foods he can’t eat.  I asked her what he wants and she suggested wild salmon, not farm raised. I told her I would call the hotel and make the request but that her husband might have to settle for farm raised salmon – after all, this is the Hilton, not the Four Seasons. She told me hubby won’t eat farm raised salmon. Memories of fourth grade and what a pain the ass N was then lead me to believe N and her husband deserve each other. I secretly enjoyed watching the husband being served farm raised salmon.

The Greedy Hotel
A few days after the reunion, I received an e-mail from the banquet coordinator of the Hilton asking if I forgot to leave an extra tip for the service employees. In the contract, the hotel required a 21% gratuity which was included in the price and which amounted to approximately $4,000 for the ten employees that tended bar, set up the buffet, and cleared tables for the five hour event. That’s $400 per employee or $80 an hour.

I e-mailed the hotel back and said that I did not leave an extra tip because 21% or $400 per employee seemed more than generous and then asked if the hotel distributed the 21% as delineated in the contract. The banquet coordinator apologized for his e-mail but never answered the question about the distribution of the gratuity. A friend of mine in the hotel industry has since told me that most hotels will require a minimum 20% gratuity but won’t distribute the full amount to the staff. So, if you ever have to book an event, question the gratuity charge and/or make sure the gratuity is distributed to those that deserve it.

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