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Classmates in St. Louis say Facebook no substitute for reunions

Monday, June 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:41 a.m. CDT, Monday, June 28, 2010
In this June 19 photo, members of the Parkway North High School Class of 2000 visit during their class reunion at the Sheraton Westport Plaza in Maryland Heights.

ST. LOUIS — No need to ask to see photos of their kids, find out who married whom or what they do for a living.

A couple of clicks around Facebook and most classmates have answered all of the usual catching-up questions before even showing up at their high school reunion.

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They might even know what the former class president had for dinner last night or where the prom queen went on vacation last summer.

Just a few years ago, organizers feared Facebook and other social networking Internet sites could kill the class reunion. Without curiosity about things, such as who gained weight or stuck around town, what would drive alumni to a reunion, an event that is often approached with nerves and dread?

But as St. Louis planners and organizers across the country gear up for the reunion season that starts in June, they said Facebook not only helps them find and connect with classmates, but creates excitement and peace of mind for those planning to attend.

"It's an opportunity for people to get the 'Hello, how are you? You don't look a bit different' taken care of ahead of time," said Edith Wagner, editor of Reunions Magazine, a national publication based in Milwaukee. "People are connecting and then saying, 'I want to party.'"

That was the case for Julie Kroenig, a 1999 graduate of Oakville High School who attended her 10-year reunion last summer.

"You don't have to spend time asking someone what they're up to these days," she said. "It's more like, 'Hey, how's that bathroom renovation going?'"

Natasha Span, who is planning a 10-year reunion for her Hazelwood Central class, found about 300 classmates on Facebook out of about 500 she graduated with in 2000.

Although it was a great tool for organizing, she wondered whether some will opt out because of the connections they've made on Facebook. She was hoping for a turnout of 200 to 250, but at 150 reservations in early June, she was a little worried.

"I actually think it's a big deal because a lot of people are like, 'I talk to you all the time on Facebook,'" said Span, 28. "They'll save the money instead of going."

But there is no replacement for the type of connection you can have with your former class at the actual gathering, said Cyndi Clamp, owner of Varsity Reunions, a St. Louis business that helps area alumni plan and organize their event.

"Even though you know what somebody did on Friday night through Facebook, you don't really know what's going on in their lives until you sit down and have a conversation with someone," she said. "(Facebook) doesn't take the place of being together as a class."

The first thing Kathryn Landis, 27, did when she began planning the Parkway South class of 2000 reunion was get on Facebook. She created an invitation for the July event on the site and sent it to the former classmates on her friend list. People started commenting online about the reunion, and she said now many should be comfortable jumping into conversations with others they haven't seen in years.

"I just don't think people wouldn't come because of Facebook," she said. "I think it's actually helped. We already have a good turnout."

Sherri Lokken, executive director of the National Association of Reunion Managers, said Facebook could help attendance at some reunions by alleviating the fears people have about going. Some people feel apprehensive about seeing classmates again, going through the awkwardness of trying to catch up or thinking no one will remember them. Facebook has allowed people to do all that and get over any concerns prior to the event, she said.

"People seem to have more energy toward the reunion because those fears are taken away," Lokken said.

And it's not just alumni in their 20s who are using Facebook to contact classmates about reunions. Sherri Rocklage, 43, said the 25-year reunion she was planning for her McCluer North High School class wouldn't be happening this summer if it weren't for the site.

She connected with a friend from high school she hadn't seen in years, and when they began chatting, they decided they should plan a get-together for the class of 1985. The reunion just sort of came together after that, she said.

"I look at Facebook as a reunion on your couch," Rocklage said. "It kind of piques everyone's interest, and you want to find out more about their lives."

Lindbergh's class of 1990 is planning a reunion for Labor Day weekend, and organizers have found many of the so-called "Lost Flyers" on Facebook, said Dawn Hrebec, 38, who also helped plan the 10-year reunion. It was definitely easier this time, she said.

For the most part, she said Facebook would help boost attendance. And if there are a few who choose to see their classmates online rather than in person, they're missing out on the best part of high school reunions, Hrebec said.

"It's the reminiscing, the old stories of teachers or classes," she said. "It's about getting together and having some fun."

There is something special about being with people who knew you as you were growing up, Clamp said.

"You all started this journey together, and it's great to see where people have landed," she said. "As a friend of mine in the business says, 'You can't give a hug through Facebook.'"


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