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High school reunion: Why return to those embarrassing memories?

Attending a high school reunion may bring back embarrassing memories, but 30 years after graduation, a new perspective can turn those moments into life lessons and understanding that it's OK to be different.

By Guest blogger / August 3, 2012

High school reunion: returning to high school 30 years after graduation may bring up embarrassing memories. It also offers a chance to reflect on learning that it's OK to be different. In this June 2012 photo, Tarah Thesenvitz peeks through the curtains during her graduation in Tacoma, Wash.

Meegan M. Reid/Kitsap Sun/AP

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My parents could not believe it when I told them I was going to attend my 30th high school reunion this weekend.

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Guest blogger

Linda K. Wertheimer, The Boston Globe’s former education editor, writes about religion, education, and family for various publications and blogs at Jewish Muse, A Writer's Blog on Faith and Family. She is a late bloomer:  In her early 40s, she celebrated her adult bat mitzvah, married, and had a son – in that order.

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“Why would you want to do that?” Mom said.

“I want to see some old friends.”

But the answer is more complicated than that. I rarely speak warmly about my alma mater, Van Buren High School in Van Buren, a town of roughly 200 outside of Findlay, Ohio. I felt like an outsider as the only Jew, other than my two older brothers. But that feeling of being different started long before high school. It began in fourth grade when my family moved to Findlay from western New York state. I spent fourth through 12th grade in Van Buren schools. In 1982, I was one of 71 graduates.

I sometimes describe my family’s move to rural Ohio as akin to transplanting ourselves to purgatory. Truth is, life is never that black and white.

Yes, some of my memories of high school are painful. At graduation, a minister, elected to give the invocation by my class, implored us all, “Praise the Lord. In Jesus’s name, let’s pray.” I had begged the principal to make sure that the minister did not mention Jesus. God, I said, would be more palatable to my family. My high school held annual Easter and Christmas assemblies presided over by ministers. Given advance notice on those assemblies, I retreated to a practice room to play my flute. At my graduation, I could not just leave. My family, including both grandmothers and a great-aunt, were there. When that minister asked us to pray in Jesus’s name, my face flushed red in discomfort. That was my last memory of my high school, once again feeling isolated because my religion was not the same as that of my peers.

Why return to a place where I often felt alone? Memories may not change, but perspective does. I used to blame my peers for what I felt and for what my school did to promote Christianity. As an adult, as a journalist who has covered church/state disputes, I realize that children are rarely the ones to blame for practices that promote religion in school. It is the adults, the school boards, the superintendents and the principals who make decisions on how to handle religion in school. I have written about a school that does what every school should do: Teach children about the world’s religions so they might better understand differences and similarities between faiths. Then, the children might be less apt to tease and more apt to tolerate each other.

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