Two Saturdays ago, I made my way back to my home city of Houston, TX to attend my high school ten-year reunion. I stopped at an IHOP in Cypress to wait out a giant, thrashing rainstorm on the way into Houston, and made conversation with my server. He was flabbergasted that I was old enough to go to a reunion. (The benefits of looking young, ladies and gentlemen.) Indeed, I almost didn’t believe that I’d been out of high school for a decade already.
I was actually the main organizer of this reunion! My high school was small; it had no real student government (or even a football team, which is unheard of in Texas). So it surprised even me that I, a nerdy art kid, was the one who stepped up to the plate and started organizing. Last year, I talked to some Class of 2002 friends who’d flown in for their reunion, and they acknowledged: “Someone just takes charge and starts organizing it. No one is appointed; it just happens.”
And I might have mused out loud, “I can do this! I can be the one!”
…While I don’t regret that decision, I wish I hadn’t taken it so lightly. The fact that I’d planned a wedding only a few years earlier didn’t deter me from this new project. A reunion is like a wedding, except the guests you’re inviting aren’t as excited about the purpose as you are. Me, I was pumped to see everyone again! Some others shared my sentiments. Still more others thought the entire idea was a waste of time.
If you’re thinking of planning a reunion, here are my tips (learn from my mistakes)… More after the jump.
1. Make a Facebook group.
It’s the age of information, and Facebook is the easiest way to reach out and have conversations with people (without bothering them in games of telephone or email lists). People can be as active as they’d like to be in a Facebook group and they can turn off notifications if they don’t want to get live updates. My graduating class was small — I think 166 students walked the stage that year — and our group had 153 members.
You can create polls, designate admin status to helpers, and pin important posts.
2. That being said, don’t neglect the website.
I created a blog on WordPress.com so that people who weren’t on Facebook would be able to keep up with plans. Ticket information, activities, and an FAQ page were all up-to-date so that if there was any confusion, people could refer to the “official” site (instead of digging around trying to find the information in a Facebook group).
3. Don’t try to do this all by your lonesome self.
It’s really hard to rely on just yourself for a project this large. I had been trucking along for a few months feeling sorry for myself that I’d placed this burden on my own shoulders, before I realized that there were people who wanted to help; I just had to ask for it. Delegate!
Truthfully, I had thought when I started this that “all we need for a reunion is a place, food, booze, and name tags.” But then classmates all chimed in with ideas, and it was obvious that just pizza and wine were not going to cut it. “If we’re flying in for this, we should do a full weekend of activities!” (which changed the reunion night into a 3-day extravaganza.) “How about we have a reunion program, like games and ice-breakers and stuff?” “We should have door prizes!” and so on and so forth… and really, if people want these things, by all means let them help to plan it.
Several months before the reunion, a few of the helpers stepped up and took charge in a more official capacity. It was a lifesaver. If I didn’t care about something — the night-of programs really didn’t make my insides tingle — someone who was enthusiastic picked it up and ran with it. So I stuck with the things that interested me, like creating a pretty bar-top menu of specialty drinks, and learning how to rig an unmanned photo booth.
And my awesome sister helped out a ton too, running interference with our venue.
4. To get a head count, pre-sell tickets for less than the door price.
This is a no-brainer but it’s a smart move. People love to save money. You will love to know that people are actually committed to showing up. It’s a win-win!
5. Hire a photographer.
I know, I’m biased because I’m a photographer, myself. But think about this: only 1/3 of our class made it to the reunion; others had prior commitments, couldn’t find decent airplane tickets, etc. The only “pro” camera that I saw that night was the photo booth that I set up. Everything else was shot with phone cameras. And in a dark setting like our venue, most of the photos were grainy, dark blurs. So it’s kinda sad for the other 2/3 of our class to see just small blobs of what they were missing!
I didn’t want to miss out on my own reunion by shooting it; that’s why I rigged the photo booth to be self-operated. I also don’t think it’s fair to rely on people to document their own event when they’re trying to experience it. But it’s a bunch of awesome moments of people who haven’t seen each other in a decade and I feel it should be documented adequately.
We didn’t have the budget for a photographer so we quietly nixed it. But in hindsight I’m a little downcast that there are few images where people don’t look blurry and ghostlike in a dark room.
6. Have some side entertainment.
Folks from the class will want to catch up. Ours was a small enough group that we just mingled amongst one another fluidly. But it was still fun to bond over a bunch of old, embarrassing photos of our 18-year-old selves on a slideshow projected on one wall. When was that? I can’t remember! was a common exclamation. Can you believe I wore that? Oh my goodness, my HAIR!
We played an old DVD of an all-school performance that was a nostalgia kick.
I set up a photo booth on the far wall and people loved it.
And if all else fails, alcohol will relax people a little bit.