Never really apart thanks to Facebook, young alumni are skipping reunions

Rebecca Miller's five-year high school reunion seemed dead on arrival.

Only 30 of her 200-odd classmates from Joppatowne High School class of 2005 RSVPed on a Facebook page set up for the reunion, which was booked at a Harford County bar last year. As the event neared, interest waned. Eventually, the reunion devolved into an informal party at the class president's house.


"Maybe one or two people went," Miller said. "They were posting on their Facebook status, 'Hey, it's a great party, everyone should come over.' No one came. It kind of fizzled."

Miller wasn't surprised. Like many of her friends, she'd kept up with her former classmates after they graduated through Facebook. She had her core group of close friends and didn't care to see the rest, because she already knew all she wanted to know about them.


Nearly half of America is on Facebook, including many in their 20s and 30s who are now hitting their five-, 10- and 15-year class reunions. And while Facebook can make reaching out to old classmates and scheduling reunions easier than ever, fewer young adults are attending those events, organizers say.

"People I haven't talked to in years will see my wedding pictures on Facebook, then I'll see them in person and we won't say one word to each other," said Miller, a 23-year-old telecommunications contractor. "And yet I know what they had for breakfast or what their kid's middle name is. Why go to a high school reunion when you're going to stand around and go, 'So, how did that doctor's appointment go yesterday?'"

While the five-year reunion traditionally isn't as well-attended as, say, the 25th, Facebook's effect appears to be creeping toward 10- and 15-year reunions.

How deep is the dip in attendance? Because high school reunions are typically organized on a grass-roots level, exact numbers can be hard to pinpoint. But Timothy Davis, who co-founded the reunion-organizing website with his wife, Barbara, said they've recently been noticing less reunions held countrywide — largely among people in their mid- to late-20s.

"We get comments from people who say, 'Well, we're not going to use your site for our reunion this year because we're not having one,'" Davis said. "They're feeling like there's not the urgency to get people together, because they have so many other ways of communicating."

Facebook had the opposite effect on Heidi Slacum's 25-year reunion. Slacum, a 44-year-old who lives in Towson, started reuniting with long-lost classmates via Facebook in advance on the reunion, re-establishing old relationships. About half of Slacum's roughly 350 fellow alums from Loch Raven High School's class of 1985 got together last October in a hall at Oregon Ridge Park. The site was the spark her class needed, she said.

"I think the turnout was better than expected because of Facebook," she said. "It created an energy and a buzz and more of a connection to want to see them in person, as opposed to just a picture."

Before MySpace, which launched in 2003, and Facebook, which followed in 2004, reunions were the best way to get the skinny on who got rich, or which classmate went from ugly duckling to supermodel. Not to mention those dirty little details, like who went bald or packed on the pounds since graduation.


"They were filled with shocks," said Katey Clark, a PR executive who lives in Canton. "Oh, so-and-so married who? Things that might not have hit the rumor mill. Now, through Facebook … I know Julie married Ted, and Lindsey lost 40 pounds."

Katie Clay, a 27-year-old marketing assistant who lives in Abingdon, is on the fence about her 10-year reunion, which is set for this month. Her five-year, held at Rocks State Park, was sparsely attended.

"You feel obligated to go because that's what you're supposed to do," she said. "But it's not something I think is worth it."

Six weeks before the reunion, 10 people said they were attending on the event's Facebook page, and another 15 were undecided — from a class of about 300. "Everyone is waiting to see who is going to go," she said. "We're all just waiting."

So far, Facebook hasn't made much impact on reunions involving the middle-aged, who use the site less frequently and fervently as younger people.

The rift appears to be generational. Baby boomers don't use Facebook the same way their children do, according to Kate Hendrickson, who lives in Federal Hill and works in social media and public relations. For example, Hendrickson's mother, Nancy, has a Facebook account but isn't very active on the site.


"My mom has one profile photo, and I think she's posted 'Happy birthday' to my grandmother and her sister on Facebook," Hendrickson said. "That's probably all the posts she's ever done."

In late February, the website, which helps people reconnect with their high school alumni, morphed into Memory Lane, a hub for nostalgic baby boomers. Memory Lane caters primarily to those in their 40s and older — the site's "sweet spot" according to president Harold Zeitz. It still helps customers find old friends, but also offers reprints of yearbooks as well as vintage songs, movies and magazines. The move to add these new features was based on feedback from customers, who "wanted to reconnect with events and experiences of that time frame."

"Let's face it, 35 years ago, people were still writing letters to each other," Zeitz said. "There was huge value in a class reunion. For a business like ours, we have to add value."

Of course, Facebook hasn't stopped everyone from wanting to get together every five or 10 years. Despite the anecdotes she hears about other people her age skipping their reunions, Clark is organizing her 10-year at a country club near her high school in Hudson, Ohio — about 40 minutes from Cleveland. (They didn't have a five-year.)

Facebook might be a good way to keep in touch with fellow alums, Clark said, but she's still looking forward to seeing her old classmates in person — as antiquated as that notion might sound to some. She created a "save the date" on Facebook, and almost half of her class of 400 said they'd come.

"I'm still looking forward to getting us back in the same room," she said. "It will be interesting to see."