Recently, I attended a school reunion, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of our graduation from grunnskóli, a school level attended by students aged 6 to 16.
I graduated from a school in a small town in the vicinity of Reykjavík in the spring of 1996. It was a beautiful, sunny day and quite warm for the time of year (late May). It was the last day I would ever have to attend that school and in most ways, I couldn’t be happier.
Most of us didn’t travel very far for our next level of education, the high school level known as framhaldsskóli in Iceland. There are two types of high schools: one is Fjölbrautarskóli in which students are not assigned to a class for the four-year duration of their studies , but select instead a mixture of mandatory and optional courses they take each school year; the other is menntaskóli, where students are assigned to a class with which they stay until they graduate.
I suppose it’s safe to say my school experience wasn’t always a bed of roses. There were moments of greatness, moments such as my graduation trip in which I sat in the back of the bus with a fantastic group of people, singing along with them a song that still makes me smile to this day.
Then there was the time when I was benignly competing with two very smart and awesome girls―who by the by, continue to be kind, intelligent and impressive in adulthood―in my class for the number one place in mathematics.
Then there were all the times I spent with my best friend making the most of everything despite having a bit of hard time in the social hierarchy.
In short, it was often hard, but there were very good times in between. Therefore, I attended the event with a cocktail of apprehension and curiosity, accompanied by the aforementioned best friend.
As it turned out, all apprehension was unwarranted. Whatever the vibe was in our youth, communication was not filtered with the politics of our youth. We came as adults, mature in our ways and perhaps more curious to see the people we saw so much of in our youth, after all these years.
I found myself the recipient of an inviting hug from someone with whom I shared no bonds of friendship in youth, a lovely gesture I very much appreciated and reciprocated. I also found myself talking to people I never got to know back in the day, people with whom I can relate in terms of experiencing Iceland after years of living abroad, and people whose genuine interest and kindness made me very much want to get to know them better.
I have made a few new friends on Facebook after the event.
I had a long conversation with people who went through hard times at school but, nonetheless, did not let that define them and made peace with the past. I was greeted with a joyous embrace by one of the kindest and friendliest women who already in girlhood was always sincere and genuine to every single person she met, and even though we didn’t get a chance to chat much, her kindness continues to light up the room she walks into.
I also learned how incredibly strong some of my old classmates are in their troubles as adults, facing them with humility and fierce determination.
This reunion also opened a healthy dialogue about bullying, and other less than pleasant experiences that so many of us had without knowing it was going on.
We go through this first stage of life with the people our age and with them we go through the stages of maturity from a mere child of six to a sixteen- year-old youth. We sail through rough and tranquil seas together and are bound together by shared experiences, whether we like it or not.
After attending this reunion, I am of the opinion that there comes a time that attending a reunion can be a means to heal old wounds and start new friendships. It takes time and distance to perhaps reach that maturity in life, and the five-year or the 10-year reunion may be too soon. But the 15th or the 20th reunion, in my case, marked a change.
That night we were all reminded of our impossible-to-beat-in-awesomeness 90s youth, sweetening the memories with our old favorite licorice and chocolate. But more importantly, we were more appreciative of each other in our 30s maturity.
It was all in all a lovely night and I look forward to the 25th reunion.
Júlíana Björnsdóttir – [email protected]