A Tale of Two Reunions
By John Michael Keeley, ’85
On the surface, we were just like the hundreds of other alumni who returned to Prep for Reunion Weekend last year. We cheered the lacrosse victory over Landon, we marveled at the dazzling improvements to campus, and we smiled and hugged and laughed over dinner and drinks and so many great memories.
But your 25th high school reunion is different, we in the Class of 1985 learned. It’s more poignant and bittersweet than you can imagine—a true marker in middle life—and the intensity of the emotional experience was almost lost on many of us. Because before we could convene and commiserate and celebrate as a class, we had to find one another.
You see, the Class of 1985 didn’t spend the prior quarter century connected. We didn’t come of age with Facebook and LinkedIn. Cell phones and the internet? They weren’t widely available until we’d been out of Prep for 10 years. In those analog years of our early adulthood, the Laws of Maturing were inexorable, even for the many of us who remained in the DC area. Colleges, graduate schools, jobs, marriages, children—like the imperceptible forces that shift tectonic plates, the mile markers of our lives drove us far apart from each other and from Prep, so gently and gradually that most of us didn’t notice.
That all changed last March, dramatically, joyously, some might even say insanely—but, all of us certainly hope, permanently as well. The Class of 1985 was blessed and cursed to have one of its own return to Prep as Director of Development and Alumni Affairs just six weeks before our 25th Reunion. And it didn’t take long for him to demonstrate how serious he was about reuniting us.
The e-mails and Facebook messages and phone calls and texts started coming immediately, at all hours of the day and night, humorous, sincere, and, above all, relentless. The message took many forms, but it always boiled down to this: “You need to be at Reunion. Your classmates need you. Prep needs you.”
What began as one man’s amusing quest to track down classmates quickly became a coalescing cause. Class agents Jimmy Molloy and Chip Purcell signed on instantly. And then Anthony Calamitsis, and Rick Valencia, and Keith Marino, and Leonard Lee, and Derek Mackey, and Ninat Lekagul, and David Fending, and Bill Napier, and Vince Fiorentino, and so many other classmates who hadn’t been in touch with each other or the school for as many as 25 years.
We dug out old phone books. We spent countless hours on websites like Facebook, whitepages.com, and peoplefinders.com. We called classmates’ college alumni offices. We called their parents. Alvaro Anillo actually went knocking on doors. Even the lawyers among us searched on sophisticated law firm databases—and didn’t charge a single billable hour. As the ranks of “lost” classmates got shorter and the list of Reunion attendees grew longer, the shared obsession grew exponentially.
Classmates with unbreakable scheduling conflicts broke them. Family plans set months before were shifted or scrapped. Fate intervened when the volcanic ash plume that crippled transatlantic travel canceled Joel Wells’s business trip to London, and ingenuity was rewarded when Henry McGovern figured out a way to get around it to travel from Poland.
Something magical was happening, something none of us had ever experienced, and we began awaiting each e-mail report of a found classmate or a new Reunion registration with nothing short of childlike wonder. In that environment of giddy anticipation, a little more than one week before Stag Night, every single one of us was crushed.
Loren Chen, an outstanding student, talented wrestler, and friend to all, had died 2 ½ years prior, in a car accident the day after Thanksgiving 2007; it was the same day, it turned out, that Father Galvin died. The news brought shock and sorrow, and more than a little bit of anger. How could one of us die unbeknownst to each other? How could such a small group have grown so far apart?
And then the emotions hardened into resolve. Ten classmates who’d been doubtful signed up over the next two days. By Stag Night, we had located 85 of our surviving 91, more than double the list Prep had when we started. In all, 44 of us attended, more than any Reunion Class, and more than another 20 of our classmates sent deeply heartfelt regrets. But we did have two special guests. Loren’s mom, Claudia, and his brother, Ming, moved us with their memories of Loren, who became a chemist at NIH after attending Georgetown, and the stories he told his family about us each night at dinner way back then. In honor of our graduation year, we had wanted to raise $85,000 as a Reunion Class Gift. We ended up raising $95,000—a new Prep record—and made the gift in memory of Loren.
We learned a lot more, too. No fewer than four of our class brothers had battled insidious, physique-maiming strains of cancer. Two of our classmates had actually been given last rites. Four men from a class of 92 battling cancer before the age of 40 is a statistical absurdity. Miraculously, all four survived and were on campus that amazing April weekend last year. A class that never won the IAC in football, basketball, or baseball was undefeated against cancer, and determined to never grow far apart again.
One year later, the smart-alecky e-mails and Facebook messages and text messages are still flying around, laced with plenty of invites to happy hour and to baseball games and to trade business opportunities. Classmates have been meeting up all over the States, even overseas. And now we’re planning a 26th Reunion, with golf and a cookout at Prep in June, because we never want more than a year to go by without an opportunity for all of us to gather again.
It turns out that our 25th Reunion was more a resumption, of a special shared experience that was always there and always will be. You can leave Prep, but Prep will never leave you. We know this now, and know that it’s in every one of you and your classmates, as well. Your commitment to Reunion can and should begin before the special weekend’s arrival, and if you commit, the rewards will carry forward in a powerful, renewed bond.
So heed our story and take this final bit of friendly advice, one Prep alumnus to another: You need to be at Reunion. Your classmates need you. Prep needs you.
To see the schedule for Reunion Weekend 2011 and sign up for the events, some of which are open to all alumni, regardless of graduation year, please click here.