Musings on Reunion Season

U-of-M-Law-School-Reunion-300x195Three of us in our office attended our law school reunions this fall, and that has put me in a nostalgic frame of mind. It also has me pondering the purpose and value of reunions, and why I have always considered them worth the effort of traveling to attend.  I get that not everyone loves them. As an extrovert who enjoys networking, I have attended most of my reunions, at their standard five-year intervals. I enjoy catching up with people, seeing old professors and noting how the school buildings have been updated. But looking back on all our law school reunions, I realize that the vibe seems to change a little each time.

In the early years (the 5- and 10-years), there seemed to be a fair amount of chest-bumping and comparing—you know, who was working for which firm, who’d gone out on their own, who’d made partner, and who’d left the law entirely. That kind of thing. During the second phase (15- and 20-years), there seemed to be a shift in focus toward family matters.  We marveled at the classmates with large families, with kids starting high school, and teased the first few among us to become grandparents. But these past couple reunions, our 25th and 30th, have been the most fun of all.

Maybe it’s just part of the human condition, but at this year’s event, everyone seemed more mellow, more philosophical, more introspective.  It seemed we were all talking, in one way or another, about the bigger issues:  the value of our degrees, whether we’d consider law school if we were graduating from college now, what we still wanted to achieve, and what values about life, love and education we are sharing with our children, many of whom are now at the age or older than we were when we attended law school. Not to suggest that this was a downer—these were mostly positive and happy conversations. It just felt like there was nothing to prove, rather, that we were connecting on a deeper and more personal level, and enjoying our time together in a different way.

At one of the events, I bumped into a former colleague who was attending his 40th reunion, and we paused to compare notes.  Attendance at the 40th had tailed off from prior reunions, he said.  Some classmates were too ill to travel, others were too busy.  Many who came had retired—my former colleague, a Chicago partner at an AmLaw 50 firm, said he was one of a small number of his classmates still working full-time, and even he was contemplating a reduced schedule.  He, too, was relishing the more intimate conversations, and noted that he valued the reunion gatherings a little more each time.

I shared his feeling.  There was something deeply touching to me about these exchanges with old friends and acquaintances that transcended the shared boot camp of late nights at the library and moments of Socratic-method terror.  It really is true that you see the essence of the 25-year-olds we were, even as the hairlines recede and the crow’s feet proceed.  I relished the calm confidence that most projected, the warm memories, and realizing that people really don’t change much, at their core.  Mostly, I enjoyed the gentle and kind way most classmates seemed to be relating to their own younger selves. Conversations often circled back to all the things we didn’t know that we didn’t know, way back then.  Many talked about being satisfied with how their lives had turned out.  One friend, a big-firm lawyer turned social worker, said, “Back in law school, I was sure I wanted a big, important job and a big, high-profile life.  Now, I wouldn’t trade my satisfying career and low-profile life for anything.”

Basking in the warm glow of a weekend spent with these friends and acquaintances, I found myself wondering if we’d gotten complacent or lazy. But that wasn’t it. My classmates, to a person, seemed fully engaged, energized and excited about what they were doing.  With age and time come wisdom and perspective.  Hearing that in a hundred different versions is why I keep attending reunions.  Moreover, my work at the Commission has confirmed for me the inherent value of coming together as attorneys, making connections and reaffirming our shared commitment to the profession.

Do you attend your reunions?  Why or why not?

Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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Katherine Erwin

Katherine Erwin

As the Commission's Special Projects Director, Katherine managed the statewide attorney mentoring program and other special projects. She practiced law in Chicago for 20 years. Then she founded the Chicago office of a legal placement agency, and placed highly credentialed attorneys in law firms, corporate legal departments and governmental agencies. Most recently, Kathy served in the Career Services Office of the University of Chicago Law School. A graduate of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and the University of Michigan Law School, she lives in Lincoln Park with her husband and daughter.

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