A Reunion: The Difference Five to Ten Years Makes

Saybrook_Misfortune of Knowing Blog

Last weekend, I attended my 10-year college reunion. While my classmates (myself included) have changed in appearance over the last decade, our personalities remained largely the same. Thanks to Facebook, which kept us up to date on the basic biographical facts about each other’s lives (location, job, relationship status, kids, etc.), we had more time to engage in the same types of conversations we’d had a decade ago about politics, relationships, and coursework, including books, from fiction to primary historical sources.

I read many books during my college years, usually because they were assigned, and a few, like Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, left a lasting impression on me. I have fond memories of discussing that book with my classmates, several of whom had hoped to serve populations facing challenges similar to the cultural and economic obstacles the family at the center of that book endured.

Ten years later, my former classmates and I talked about our jobs, rather than classes, and about the books we’re reading for fun, rather than books listed on syllabi. Most of my friends are in the legal, financial, or medical worlds; most are living in Manhattan. Many seemed perfectly content at this juncture of their lives, while others suggested that they hadn’t quite met their professional or personal goals (hopefully, still recognizing how lucky they are to have jobs that meet any of their goals in this economy).

Work-life balance was on many classmates’ minds, with a strong preference for increasing the attention paid to “life.” It was a marked shift from our last reunion five years ago; back then, perhaps due to the anxiety of having minimal professional experience in a deteriorating economy or the belief that a prestigious or high-paying job was worth perpetual misery, many accepted long hours and unsatisfying work. Some had transitioned to better work situations that gave them more time to read, write, or travel, while others said they didn’t mind intense work so long as it was meaningful. Many specifically mentioned wanting more time for their relationships with their partners or (future) children, with the men wanting these lifestyle changes just as much as the women.

“I want grass, a backyard hammock, and a good book”—or some variation of it—was a surprisingly common refrain, reminiscent of Cicero’s famous words: “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

After three days, my voice was hoarse, and I was far behind on my reading, having read not a word of the books I had downloaded for the trip (I probably won’t have a book review until next week!). It was worth it, though. I’m looking forward to the discussions we’ll have the next time my class meets on our former stomping grounds. I hope that by then my friends will have found an even better work-life balance, one that will allow them to engage in a wide variety of intellectually challenging and personally satisfying pursuits. I’ll have many brightly colored picture books to recommend; I’m sure the subject will come up more than once.

*My husband took the three pictures in this post: The entryway to Saybrook, one of the residential colleges, but not my residential college (top); Sterling Memorial Library, where I spent a lot of time (below); Beinecke Rare Book Library, which I avoided because it triggered my fear of heights (last).

Sterling_Misfortune of Knowing BlogRare Book Library_Misfortune of Knowing Blog


    1. I love that gothic style of architecture. There’s a more modern library (not that I’ve seen it since the renovations) underneath the grassy area.

  1. Love the Sterling Library building – and the interesting-looking one right behind it. On reunions I’ve never attended one (possibly not been invited :-)) and wouldn’t really care to.

    1. Hi Roy! The building behind Sterling (on the right in the picture) is the Hall of Graduate Studies (HGS), where I took most of my history classes. The grassy area actually has a library underneath it, too (Bass Library, which isn’t the name it had when I was there). I’m glad I went to the reunion –I had a very happy college experience– but I felt guilty for losing touch with my friends.

  2. It is nice to see friends from college, although I didn’t after myself, except for my best friend from college. People go off in many directions and careers change. I went into architecture and got a job before I graduated and she never got one at all. Situations like this changes how friends see the dynamics now.

    1. Yes, people definitely do go off in different directions. Most of my friends are doing the same jobs now that they did five years ago, but I believe there will be many changes by our 15th reunion. People are sick of their meaningless corporate jobs (the lawyers were particularly unhappy, being true to stereotype!).

  3. I think, after decades of chasing the almighty dollar, people are starting to realize that’s rather an empty goal. Because once you have the money–if you ever do–you look around and realize all you’ve missed while your nose has been pressed to the grindstone. You are only young once. Your kids only grow up once. Relationships don’t wait until you have time for them.

    One must remember the business of life is living. Work is supposed to support that, not take precedence over everything. .

    1. I think you’re right. Once you’re used to a certain standard of living, though, it’s hard to downsize. I hope that won’t be a problem for my friends.

      1. I’ve been scrambling the last few years. I don’t have the education of most of your friends, and middle class jobs have steadily vanished over the last few decades. I’ve been laid off twice, fired once (and collected unemployment when I proved that company was wrong to terminate me). To survive, I work four different jobs. I’m tired.

        1. Wow, four jobs. I’m so impressed that you are such an accomplished writer with everything else you have to do. It’s a tough economy right now. It might help to have more degrees, but that leaves us with a hefty amount of educational debt, which limits occupational choices (not that anyone should feel sorry for us).

          1. Editing, the part time job, property management, writing. Yup, four jobs. I’m hoping to cut this back to two next year, but in the meantime, I wish someone would invent a way not to have to sleep. ;/

  4. Grass, a hammock, and a good book sound perfect! Nice pictures. With that beautiful blue sky, it looks like you had nice weather for the reunion.

  5. I still get together with my college buddies and it certainly is interesting to see who has changed, and who hasn’t. Sounds like it was fun to meet up. 🙂

    1. Hi Jae! It’s nice that you see your college friends so often. I lost touch with most of mine after a couple of years (except for Facebook), and while many live only about 2 hours away from me in Manhattan, there are several who live much farther away. I hope I’ll get to see them before our next college reunion, but it’ll be even harder when they start having children (most of my friends from college don’t have children yet).

      1. Lol, I’m pretty much the only unmarried, childless person left in my group. We had a get together recently because on of us is moving far away, and it was like a mad house of a dozen kids. 😉 But it certainly is MUCH harder to organize things with kids than without.

        1. That’s funny! It sounds like you’d fit right in with my group. I think some of the families with very young kids didn’t come to the reunion, but I know that most of the people I was friends with in college haven’t started their families yet. My friends expressed a lot of concerns about how they would manage their jobs while raising kids (the ones in DC and Manhattan have the worst working hours). It’s tough!

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