This summer marked 20 years since I graduated from high school. What a weird milestone. There are still things about high school I remember as if they happened yesterday.

There were certainly some highlights, things I enjoyed. But there were also some very rough times. The playoffs tennis match I lost in the tiebreaker.  The bullying I experienced from a variety of classmates. The isolation I felt from the groups around campus. The isolation I felt, at times, even from some of my closest friends. Obviously, many memories which I’d rather forget.

When the time came for our 20th high school reunion, it was the dichotomy of emotions surrounding the good times and the bad that made me wonder if I should even go. Made even more challenging was that, as Senior Class President, I was supposed to be planning it. Thankfully I had some help from a few great team members. We spent almost an entire year preparing for the event, searching for a venue, looking at food options, and all the other pieces of party planning that pushed me away from event planning as a career…

As the day approached, my anticipation for seeing “old friends” grew. Even as I was promoting the event and reaching out to encourage others to go, I was silently dreading seeing everyone. I wanted it to be a big success and wanted others to enjoy their reunion, I just wasn’t sure that I would.

Self-esteem is not my strong suit. Despite any accomplishments I have had in my life, personally or professionally, I still tend to talk down to myself, emphasizing my flaws over my achievements. Of course there’s also the 20 years of time that does wonders to your physical appearance. The body insecurity I feel, even still, is so real. The thought of seeing others who knew me at a time in my life when I was active, an athlete, and way healthier was pretty scary.

The day of, I told my best friend that I was going to show up, set up ahead of time, and stick around for an hour or so, and then I was out. Imagine my surprise when I closed the place down 7 hours later.

She and I got there about 45 minutes early. We brought old shirts from High School, a few old yearbooks, and random memorabilia that would mean nothing to anyone outside of our class and school. We checked in with the venue host and were told we were responsible for letting people in…cue my newest career: Bar Bouncer. Their security had not yet shown up, so we had to take the lead.

I was not thrilled with this given that I wasn’t even wanting to interact with people…I was happy grabbing a drink, some snacks, and then finding a spot in the back with the pool table to keep me busy. That was not to be, and we had to greet people as they came in the door. I was terrified I wouldn’t recognize anyone and I would look like a total jerk asking them for their names.

Thankfully, I actually knew just about everyone who came in. And surprisingly, it was actually kind of fun to say hi and see what others were up to after all this time.

The venue security finally showed up and we were released to wander. I would have assumed my first stop would be the bar or the food, but I actually went to say hi to some people first. I got a little distracted hearing about a friend who had worked for NASA, and another friend who was in personal training.

As more people arrived, I began to feel a little more relaxed. I was actually having fun swapping stories with others, hearing about what their lives were like, their families, and a little about anyone they still kept in touch with that didn’t make it out.

A few hours in I realized I had not even had a single drink. I had made my way around to several groups of people, saying hi, checking in, and also snacking on the food. Once I realized how much time had passed, I felt completely at ease. By then, I even felt comfortable saying hi to people who I was not friends with or close to in high school. And I enjoyed catching up and getting to know them.

Of course I also really enjoyed reliving some of those old stories that we would’ve hidden forever as teenagers. Somehow after 20 years, they were finally funny. And then creating some new ones as we went.

One thing I realized while reflecting on my experience: everyone has a history. Everyone has insecurities. Everyone has demons they are working to put behind them or conquer. Reminiscing about the old memories didn’t make that any less true, but it did help remind me that we all have a shared history that is part of the path that led us all to where we are now. Although our lives have gone in different directions, at our core, we will always share that. There’s some comfort that I got from that realization. These people knew me as a kid. They grew up with me, along side me. And we experienced so much of the joy and pain together. We learned through these experiences together.

It ended up being a truly fun and enjoyable experience after all. And, I’m kind of looking forward to the next one.