. Old friends, life changes, and a high school reunion : Budget Travel Adventures

Old friends, life changes, and a high school reunion

high school reunion Jeremy Branham senior portrait today

My senior portrait and me 20 years later – quite a high school reunion

After 20 years, I was reunited with my past in Myrtle Beach.  As I walked down memory lane through old neighborhoods, places I hung out as a kid, and the scenes of my childhood experiences, so much had changed.

After all these years, I had changed too.  And that’s why I was really here.

I was in town for my 20th high school reunion.  After reuniting with the places of my past, it was time to reunite with the people of my past.

Moving from South Carolina to California and now traveling around the world, I’ve learned that travel is a lot like a reunion.  Like many of my life lessons from travel, this trip back to South Carolina taught me a lot about myself.

Reuniting with old friends

Matt Jeremy Bernard high school reunion

Matt, Jeremy, Bernard – not bad for 38!

Before the big event on Saturday, I met up with a few people Friday night.  Old friends and classmates, Chris, Bernard, Jodi, Matt, and others were hanging out at a bar.  So we gathered to catch up and renew our acquaintances.

For me, 20 years had passed since I had seen most of these people.  Two months after graduation, I left for good and never really returned.  This is the first time I had spent a few days in the Myrtle Beach area in over 19 years.

Drinks were poured, stories were told, photos were taken, Facebook was updated as our lives flashed back and fast forwarded throughout the night.  I was surprised at how quickly time passed as an early evening quickly turned into the early morning hours.

On Saturday, the wind and clouds hung around but that didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the reunion.  Dressed in coat, shirt, and pants, I was both anxious and nervous.  There were some people I was excited to see, some I was nervous to see, and some I didn’t even recognize.

Isn’t that how reunions always seem to go?

The truth is, Facebook has made class reunions either easier or irrelevant.  These days, everyone can get connected and know who’s married, how many kids people have, what they do for a living, and where they live.  In some ways, it helps cut through the superficial and go straight to the past or more in depth with the present.

Travel has played a part of my mid life crisis (is this this a guy thing?  Do women experience mid life crises too?) Living in California and leaving behind a place I never really visited again, why did I choose to travel across the country to be here?

Honestly I wanted to show people that I wasn’t who I used to be.  In talking to older generations about reunions, the 20th seems to be the one where everyone wants to show off and talk about what they are doing with their lives.

Who’s still pretty?  Who has aged?  Did that person really turn out to be the success everyone thought he or she would be?

For me, I was driven by curiosity, a desire to uncover and heal the past, and show that life experiences, changes, and travel have transformed me.

Successes and failures of a high school graduate

1993 Conway High School reunion

Going back to school after 20 years, I’ve learned a lot about life

During the awards ceremony that evening, I had an embarrassing but funny conversation with Carrie about an event that happened right after school.  After our conversation, I asked her what she thought of me in high school.  She told me what a stuck up jerk I was.  Rachel said she always liked and respected me.  However, with a smile on her face she also said I was “an ass.”

Honestly, they weren’t that far off.  In high school, I was a very quiet, shy kid who never had many friends.  I wasn’t the smartest kid in high but I studied and worked hard.  I always took Honors and AP classes and graduated #2 in my high school class.

So people thought I was stuck up.  That’s partly true.  I had very high standards for myself and held others to those same standards.  However, the other side of that was that I was insecure and felt as if no one ever liked me.

I wasn’t very social, never went to parties, and was probably one of the most innocent, naïve high school guys on earth.  I focused on school and baseball, making sure I succeeded in both.

In 6th grade, I had moved from a small town in central South Carolina to Conway.  I cried on the drive there because I never wanted to leave.  With anger, loneliness, some fond memories, and a deep sense of insecurity, I left Conway after graduating in 1993 and never visited again.

Twenty years later and some of those wounds were still there.

I watched the first girl I ever danced with walk into the room.  I said “Hello” to the first girl I ever really dated and cared about.  I remembered the stories of the people I knew, saw the faces of those I had crushes on and never told, and thought about the mistakes that I made with close friends that I hurt.

Despite some athletic and academic success, those four years of high school were the worst four years of my life.  Since high school, new scars were opened as a result of wounds that never healed.  Yet time, a new life, and new people have healed some of that past.

Tonight, I didn’t let that sour taste linger.  I was looking ahead and not behind.

As I made my way around the room, I was genuinely excited to see so many people from my past.  I didn’t talk much about the past as we shared stories of our lives today.  Throughout the night, I am sure there were many “remember when” moments.  I wasn’t a part of many of those conversations.

Yet I was excited to talk about my life.  I shared my travel stories, talked about my College Football Travel Tour, my adventures in Europe, and my busy travel schedule.  However, I wanted to talk about their lives as well.

For me, success wasn’t what I was doing but what I had become.

As the conversations lasted well beyond last call at the reunion, I felt like a different person.  That’s why I wanted to come.  I hoped people saw that I wasn’t the same person I was in high school.

Whether I was a success, a nerd, had aged or put on a few pounds didn’t matter.  I may have talked more tonight than I did in 4 years of high school.

Whether it’s a high school reunion or a travel adventure on the other side of the world, we want to find those connections with people that matter.  Late into the evening, I shared more of my story and life lessons with Rachel and her husband Marcus.

As the night ended and people went home, we said our various goodbyes as plans were already being made for a 25th reunion.

I’m not sure if I’ll be back.  But looking back at twenty years ago, I am glad I am not the same person that I was.

Why travel is like a high school reunion

high school reunion Jeremy Bernard

Jeremy and Bernard

As I made my way home around 2 am, I thought about the people I had just seen for the first time in 20 years.

Some had become doctors and professionals.  Many had kids and were married.  Most looked the same while a few looked very different.  Regardless of whether people never left town or they moved far away, we had all gotten a bit older and wiser and now see our grown up world differently.

Travel is a lot like a high school reunion.

Thinking back to that first travel experience, we were young, naive, and excited about the possibilities ahead of us.  Years later, we’re a little older, view the world differently, and aren’t the same people we were when we started.

Like those high school friends that remind us how much life has changed, our travel experiences, cultural interactions, and connections become our measuring stick for how we see, live, and view life.

Travel changes us.  And like a high school reunion, our travel experiences give us an opportunity to look back and reflect on who we are and how far we’ve come.

Looking back only is fun as long as we are continuously moving ahead.  Our past experiences become faded travel memories like stories from our high school years.

A high school reunion gives us that chance to look back while seeing how far we’ve come.  Travel allows us to treasure our memories, examiner ourselves, and look ahead to the next adventure.

I am not the same person I was in high school.  At my 20th high school reunion, I hope people realized that.  Thankfully, travel has played a part in shaping who I am today.

As I awoke Sunday morning, I set out on a new travel adventure ready to surprise a few people in my life.  It was time for a going home surprise.

What impact have old friends had in your life?  Has your perspective on life and the world changed since you left high school?

This post is a three part series about my surprise visit to South Carolina.  Read Part I Reuniting with my past.

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  1. Wendi Lee says:

    GREAT GREAT BLOG! Definitely my favorite, but perhaps the reason why is because it is personal to me :) Well, I’ve known you for quite some time and I never thought you were an ass or arrogant, but I do remember thinking you were shy and standoffish. That is, until we worked together at Myrtle Waves and I got to know you better by talking with you in the breakroom over nachos and cheeseburgers 😉 I actually wish I could have sat down and talked with you longer at the reunion because your travels and your blog fascinate me. Of course, I love your blogs because, like I told you at the reunion, I have “career envy” regarding your travels and blogging. Also, writing is one of my favorite things to do.

    High school was a great time for me, and I didn’t really realize that until I went to the reunion, saw people I haven’t seen in 20 years and took a brief walk down memory lane. However I really didn’t come into myself until I went to college and met so many other people from various places all over the world. I think almost everyone is insecure in high school and even some of college. That just comes from not really knowing what you want to do in your life, fear of the uncertainty, the normal insecurities of being a teenager and young adult, emotional scars from situations we didn’t ask to be in, or perhaps a combination of all of the above.

    So, in conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed your perspective of the reunion, high school, etc. Great job Jeremy- I look forward to reading other blogs!

    • Thanks Wendi. Glad you liked it. I try to tell a personal story or help me connect with a place in everything I write. However, sometimes I am a lot more personal than others. This was one of those. I’ve also talked about things I’ve learned about myself from traveling, a travel mid life crisis, travel confessions, my birthday dream trip, the college football travel tour, etc. All of these are very personal insights into me. It’s all travel related but I believe in sharing a part of myself in hopes that others will relate and share.

      Which you did! :)

      I think many people find themselves later in life. I think that’s all part of growing up. I am glad you enjoyed high school. I know most people did. I am not sure why it was so hard for me. Maybe I felt like I never fit in or never made the adjustment after moving. Maybe I wanted to move on and grow up quicker or took life more seriously. I don’t know. However, it’s good that all of us find ourselves at some point.

      Myrtle Waves really was the fun part of high school for me. I interacted and connected with people in ways I never did in high school. I did eat far too many fries and candy bars while working there though. However, I always appreciated that time and those relationships. Only parties I ever went to in high school were Myrtle Waves ones :)

      Thanks for reading. I know you don’t have to but I appreciate your interest in the blog, my travels, and what I write. I hope that what I do can help inspire and encourage anyone to find that one in life they’re passionate about – travel or otherwise!

  2. Carrie says:

    Way to throw me under the bus! I would like to say that I did not approach you and declare you to have been a stuck up jerk, but upon your inquiry, I did tell you what my opinions had been at the time. Everyone evolves and changes though, and you have too. :)

    • Haha, I wasn’t throwing you under the bus. I was just saying we had an embarrassing but funny conversation about the past where you revealed that I was a stuck up jerk. What Rachel said was worse! :)

      It’s interesting to look back at the stories and perspectives of others 20 years later. If anything, I would say your honest comment, along with Rachel’s, makes me look bad in high school. Doesn’t make you look bad at all!

      I hope my changes now are good ones :)

      P.S. I never said which Carrie said it :)

  3. Interesting post, but the simile does not apply for me. I feel travel is the antithesis of high school and a high school reunion.

    I always feel constrained and feel I have to act a certain way around people from high school. Travel is about freedom and not caring what people think and just being yourself. Everybody comes from different backgrounds and experiences, so obviously not everyone is going to feel the same way.

    • Yes, we are all different. But let me counter your argument.

      In high school, we were all about friends, peer pressure, going with the crowd, trying to fit in and find our place (not me, of course). However, at a high school reunion, you’ve become your own person. You have your own direction in life. You no longer have to please people but are free to go back and be who you really are. I think travel does the same thing. Travel opens your eyes to the world around so you learn as much about yourself as you do the places you go.

      At a high school reunion and in travel, you are free to be who you are as you engage those around you :)

  4. Rachel says:

    Jeremy I enjoyed reading your post, but I enjoyed our conversations the night of the reunion even more. I know many will have comments about my perception, but the context of the conversation is hard to capture via written word. I said this as I was hugging you with a big smile, because as I was saying it I knew we all have different backgrounds, have been through different things and express our emotions differently especially during the adolescent years. That being said, I hope you’ll be back as Marcus and I enjoyed burning the midnight oil with you through conversation.

    • Thanks Rachel. The real connections are the ones that are most important memorable. Hanging out with you and Marcus was one of the highlights of the night. And yes, I do understand your reservations about what you said. The context wasn’t captured – you did say it with a smile on your face because you do like me. However, you were also right – I wasn’t the easiest person to get along with in high school. We all mature and go through things in our own ways. For me, high school wasn’t a highlight of my development as a person. However, it was nice to come back and build bridges again. I think we’re all a little better people and a bit wiser as we’ve gotten older.

  5. Wendi Lee says:

    Jeremy, working at Myrtle Waves is actually what changed me in many ways. I feel that if I would not have worked there, perhaps I would not have come out of my shell as much as I did. I started working there the summer going into my sophomore year (I worked in the lemon quench stand- remember those things? YUMMY!). I knew no one there, so I had to sort of climb out of my shell and meet people. It was awesome meeting kids from other high schools and many of those I am still friends with today!

    I think it is brave to ask people what their opinions were of you back then. I would be interested to know what people thought of me as well, but now we are all completely different people. We are older, wiser and like you said, that is part of growing up.

    I did enjoy high school, but college was AMAZING! I met so many people from all over the world and it really opened my eyes up and I realized how really big the world is.

    • I guess I wouldn’t have cared what people thought of me growing up if I really liked who I was. Honestly, I didn’t. So hearing that other people didn’t like being around me confirmed my own opinions of myself back then. Wasn’t a good time in my life. Glad I have changed. Like you, I loved the Myrtle Waves experience. That helped me so much. Without that, I am not sure how I would’ve gotten through high school. It was great being accepted, having friends, doing fun stuff, going to parties, and knowing people outside of Conway.

      Like you, college was easily the best 4 years of my life. I really broke out of my shell. In my first semester at USC, I was floor president and a member of student government (could you have imagined that in high school?). My sophomore year was very tough but after that, I had tons of friends my junior and senior years. Two best years ever!

      After traveling some in college, the world got even bigger and my life and view became so much bigger than what I knew in Conway, SC.

  6. I relate to some of what you wrote here, and I think it’s very powerful that you went there anyway and interacted – and focused on what supported you. I love how we can keep growing and expanding who we are as the years pass, I guess that’s part of the reason I’m sometimes the only person around who’s excited about advancing in age. I view it as an opportunity to discover even more possibilities.

    • As I’ve gotten older, I enjoy life a little more than I did when I was younger – some things anyways. For me, the reunion was a place where my past and present collided. I can’t say that I look forward to getting older but I am a better person now. I think I’ve aged well also and like who I am more than I did then. So age does has its benefits in terms of growing older and wiser.

      Glad you enjoy getting older. It does have its benefits. Do you feel like there is an ideal age for you when everything will come together? Is there something in particular you look forward to when getting older?

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