Nobody can tell me I didn’t try anything
I didn’t know what to do to get over you
I tried magic and potions but I could not shake you loose
From my dreams, strange as it seems
It’s like you never left at all
I guess I just can’t forget you
It’s like you never left at all
Somethin’ inside me just won’t let you go
(“It’s Like You Never Left,” 1973)
Anyone remembering the lyrics of this nostalgic song will agree that no magic and potions can shake loose our memories of our UVM days. True, people grow, people change. Yet there is an innate sense of self that is always there which college reunions—especially the milestones—can bring out in us in ways that years of therapy cannot.
Our UVM class reunions are small slices out of time, unattached to reality, not dependent on anything but goodwill, a sea of smiles, and belly laughs. For alumni of my vintage, this is all peppered with ’70s music that instantaneously catapults us back into a time warp to the dorms at Harris/Millis, the Shoeboxes (RIP), Redstone, Jeanne Mance, or the Living Learning Center.
But perhaps more important, class reunions are a celebration of “us” and of the friendships that we began as teens and have endured, rekindled, and how these friendships impacted our lives, then—and now—and will always be cherished.
Delving deeper into our psyches, what do you think is the real reason we go back to our college reunions, especially the milestones?
One reason is this: Reflecting back to our younger selves, our college days were where we began to shape the adults we were to become for the rest of our lives. It was a herculean task confronted by a bunch of complete adolescent amateurs.
Stay with me on this thought, I think you’ll get it. It wasn’t just the college life stage of adolescence that had profound consequences for our soon–to–be adult lives, but it was the interactions of this developmental transition in which the memories of “our college days” took shape in our minds. Meaning? UVM was a formative life experience—as much social as it was academic—in which we encountered a clash of potential identities, one of which we would choose to stay with us for years to come.
A second thought: Our return to our Green Mountain roots is fueled by a kind of cosmic curiosity, because no other event or opportunity in our lives can show us how “seasoned” we’ve grown or how wise we’ve become. The reunions give us the opportunity to mingle for a few hours with those who started out with us on the journey, only to return as equals, as adults. With graying, thinning (or gasp!….balding) hair and thickened middles, we look deeply into the eyes of our old college buddies, and we are pleased to see that their love for us reflects the person we used to be, the person we always wanted to be, and the person we are today.
Yet still the same.
“You haven’t changed a bit!” we all seem to say, and simultaneously LOL at the Big Fat Lie, acknowledging our dependency on prescription eyeglasses and noting small pouches puckering at the edges of our mouths. We chat endlessly of the challenges we faced as parents and the joys of becoming grandparents. We speak of divorces, careers, retirements—even deaths—all the while sharing magic and communion in having been young together at UVM.
A third thought: dreams came easily then, as the future lay before us. There was intimacy in those days that cannot be duplicated in the present, as these are the peers who—at one place in time over four short years at UVM—knew our shoe size, favorite cafeteria meal, college romances and “firsts,” favorite eight-track, ski slope, and our deepest and darkest secrets. Weekdays were for serious studying (well, sort of), and weekends for frat, sorority or dorm parties—not trimming hedges, schlepping kids to soccer games, contributing to 401Ks, or scheduling colonoscopies and knee replacements.
In our UVM days, we not only had hours to spend talking to our friends, but hours of things to say to them.
Decades later, we stand before one another racking our minds to remember where did everyone go after graduation? Who did they become? Who did they marry? Who became successful, entrepreneurial, amassed a fortune in the dot.com era, or was smart enough to invest in “weird-named” start-up companies like Microsoft, Google, Twitter, or Facebook? We wonder who achieved their true potential.
Which leads to the most crucial reunion question: Have we?
In my mind, the real revelation is that we are not so gravely concerned with what our classmates think of what we’ve done with our lives, as much as what we think of how we view ourselves. Are we happy with the choices we made in our lives since we graduated UVM? Did we have the vision in those days to choose the right career? Had enough life adventures? Did we take too many wrong turns, too many foolish risks, and waste precious time? Did we pursue our passions, live a purpose-filled life? Live where we wanted with someone we wanted to be with?
And what if it’s all still out there, still waiting to be had even decades after graduation?
That idea—not what we look like at a reunion, wear, did or didn’t do, or what other people think of us—is the most gut-wrenching and exciting facet of our reunion thinking. The radical thought might push us to think outside of our daily routines, into the exhilarating and (for some) discomforting realization that our lives are not yet done and we can still transform ourselves, blossom, and still grow just like we did during our college days at UVM. And OMG (our kids would be shocked at the notion), that we are still developing human beings—even nearing our milestone reunions and birthdays.
Yes. Still capable of surprising somebody. Maybe even ourselves.
So it’s been how many years since you returned to your alma mater for a reunion… or not? The novelist George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) had it right way back in the nineteenth century when she wrote, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
We can, after all, take a sharp turn off the straight road some of us may have been driving on all our lives, hit the throttle on our hybrids and head up Route 89 for Vermont. Turn on Pandora or Sirius full blast and tune into the ’70s channel to get in that groovy kind of mind set. Guaranteed the Marshall Tucker Band’s hit “Take the Highway” will be playing.
“Take the highway
Lord knows I’ve been gone too long
Lot of good days, yeah
Hear me say...
I’ll be back someday
Memories of your love still linger on”
Let’s take a wild guess and say it is followed by Wild Cherry’s ’76 hit “Play that Funky Music.” Then, appropriate for an autumn reunion in Vermont, Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” And then back to where we began these thoughts, Dave Mason sings “It’s Like You Never Left” as you come over that rise on the highway and once again see Burlington, the lake, the Adirondacks spread out before you.
Approaching our fall 2016 reunions, I can tell you I know two things with absolute certainty. That funky music still tells our story, and Dave was right: It’s like we never left.
Andrea Mastrocinque-Martone is on the Class of ’76 40th Reunion Committee and a self-proclaimed UVM Reunion “junkie” who has attended every reunion since graduation.