My fluttering stomach awoke me on the morning of my trip back to New Jersey for my 20th college reunion. My fear was not of air travel but of time travel. After all, what would my Princeton classmates think of my horizontal career path, wandering as it has from academia to nonprofit advocacy to accounting? My accomplishments couldn’t measure up to those of the surgeons, the law partners and the hedge-fund managers.
When I finally arrived on campus, the sheer volume of people milling around in garish orange-and-black uniforms overwhelmed me, as did the familiar and foreign sights and smells and the emotional residue left behind from the burning intensity of college life. Here was the dorm where we had “Cake Night” parties; over there was the building where we protested something very important which, now, I cannot quite remember.
I found some old friends and swiftly fell into conversation with them. Facebook has reduced the need to catch up and provided the online observant with more opportunities for real conversation. You can skip the small talk.
The highlight of the reunion was a radio show. Most of my time in college was spent in a dormitory basement, spinning actual vinyl records for the campus radio station. Months ago, I began begging the current program director via email for a time slot during reunions. He eventually relented, giving us a 10-to-midnight slot on Saturday night. Three friends and I descended on the station’s new digs underneath a new dorm, not knowing what to expect. I figured the kids would see us as hopeless geezers wearing dark socks and spewing outdated vinyl memories.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted not by bored hipsters but by what must have been the two friendliest kids ever to work in college radio. All of our old records were still there in a huge archive that was still in some use. The album sleeves were tattered, but the ecstatic signed reviews we had written on them (“play play play all day!” on a Beat Happening record, for instance) were clearly legible. After a quick tech tutorial, we steeped ourselves in the greatest hits of 1980s indie rock for two blissful hours. Eventually nearly a dozen of us hung around the studio, laughing at corny jokes about how old we were, while feeling the familiar urgency of a choppy Dinosaur Jr. guitar riff.
When we wish to feel young again, what are we seeking? I think we want to feel that yawning sense of potential, of anticipation, of vibrant and humming life. As I swayed back and forth to the sounds of the Feelies, I felt those vibrations again. I even hummed right along with them.
If you get a chance to go to a reunion soon, go. Go without fear, because everyone else is just as scared as you are, for 100 different reasons. If you are receptive to it and a little lucky, maybe you’ll even remember how you used to feel back then.