Summer is the Time for Reunions
Alfredo G. Evangelista
Life is short. Turning AARP and Medicare eligible, I’ve been contemplating mortality. In the last six months, I’ve attended too many funerals: Valerie Campaniano, Darolyn Lendio Heim, Stanley Magbual, Jesse Badua, Eddie Agas Sr., Ron Menor, H. Wayne Mendoza and Joshua Agsalud. So when I got off the plane after attending Darolyn’s funeral and received an email from my cohorts at the UCLA School of Law Asian/Pacific Islander Law Student Association proposing a San Francisco get together in February, I immediately said yes. When others residing in Los Angeles heard about our Nor-Cal mini-reunion, they planned one for June and I attended that one too.
“Class Reunions brings out the youth that exists in us especially as we age,” explains my godbrother Bernard Barbero (his mom Ida is my Ninang). Bernard is organizing my Maui High School Class of 1976 65th birthday party, scheduled for July 29 at the Maui Beach Hotel. “What I enjoy the most is seeing the smiles on the faces of each classmate as we remember our youthful years,” Bernard says.
Our high school class has held four reunions: 10th, 20th, 30th and 40th and one birthday celebration (60th). I’ve gone to each one of them, even though I resided on O‘ahu during the first three reunions. We were supposed to have a 45th reunion in 2021 but the pandemic interfered with our plans. (My 40th college reunion for the University of Southern California Class of 1980 became a virtual one and even though Darolyn placed me on the committee, I refused to participate because I was so disappointed it could not capture the same feeling as the normal football season homecoming festivities.)
COVID also affected the Maui High School Class of 1980 reunion plans. “My Maui High School 40th reunion in 2020 got canceled by the pandemic,” recalls Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran. “We joked about doing a Yakudoshi (41st) in 2021 and a 60th birthday event last year.”
“I’ve attended most of my high school reunions because I helped organize them,” recounts Gil. Organizing a high school reunion is no easy task. Selecting a location and determining the price is always an important discussion. Some classes even opt to go to Las Vegas, with all the glitz and glamour. “Las Vegas can be challenging,” observes Phil Sabado. “Not all the classmates have the time to visit. The lure of the machines is a competition to gathering for long periods of time. On a bright note, the internationally famous Melveen Leed sang for our last gathering in Vegas. What a treat that was! They are all still talking about that evening.” Las Vegas is also a challenge when classmates can’t commit to the trip. “We held a two-location reunion in 2015,” Gil notes. “My class has never been big on signing up beforehand—we kinda moved to just saying meet at a place and pay your own rather than asking classmates to make reservations. Same with Sin City where we just asked a classmate living in Las Vegas to reserve a room and then informing classmates the night we would gather a few weeks after our Maui reunion weekend.”
For Ben Acob, his high school class resorted to an opportunistic reunion. “During the pandemic my high school best friend, who was also my groom’s man, visited the Big Island where we went to high school at Laupāhoehoe High School.” The two made an impromptu decision to call as many classmates as they could and invite them to meet up. “We were able to get about eight of our classmates out of thirty-eight in my graduating class,” Ben recounts. “Due to some passing away and the pandemic, and the lack of planning, we were happy with the result. They turned out to be the people we expected would be there. We ate, talked story, laughed, and laughed, and we were just overjoyed to be together. It was great to see and spend some time with everyone.” The gathering, Ben described, allowed them to go back in time to relive and express their happy-go-lucky, younger selves with the same people they grew up with in rural Laupahoehoe village. “I think class reunions allow us to reflect on life’s many possible paths to success and contentment,” Ben concludes.
“It was a great opportunity to experience and relive great memories, happy times but also an opportunity to bring closure to bad experiences during the childhood and early adolescence years,” Jeny Bissell, Lahainaluna High School Class of 1978, suggests. “With that said, the 40th high school reunion was so much more fun with no filters,” Jeny says laughing, “than the 30th, 20th and 10th! I’m looking forward to the 50th reunion.”
Jeny’s fellow Lahainaluna alum, Kai Pelayo, is a proud member of the Class of 1976. “My Lahainaluna Class of 1976 was special,” he exclaims. “We graduated from high school during the Bicentennial for the United States. Cannot top that party! We have not had a lot of class reunions. When we have had them, however, the chance to reconnect, see classmates and the direction life has taken us makes us wonder why we did not have a reunion sooner. Later in life our class reunion brought us together to remember the good and sad times. We did it as a family. Take it from one who should listen … GO TO YOUR CLASS REUNION!!”
“I attended my class reunions because I wanted to see everyone, after spending twelve years with some of them— how they’ve changed (or not),” declares Marcia Cabebe Paranada, St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School Class of 1974. “And see what direction everyone went after high school. It’s surprising and interesting to see what some of our classmates are doing, and what they did from graduation until now. I think the importance of attending reunions is so we can reconnect with classmates–find out about their kids and grandkids. Our class was quite small, compared to the other schools—we had 104. So we all knew each other. Getting together is fun. There are a few of our classmates that live on Maui that never want to reconnect, and I think that’s sad.”
Folks go or don’t go to their reunions for different reasons.
Madelyne Pascua, Waipahu High School Class of 1983 hasn’t attended any of her reunions, feeling a sort of disconnect with her classmates. “I was in Student Government, so I hung out with my upper classmates,” Madelyne states.
Another person anonymously asserts high school–and reunions–are very cliquish.
“I went because when I dropped out of high school junior year to get my GED, due to being a young mom, I missed a lot of my friends,” states Rodalisa Dela Cruz Riglos from the Maui High School Class of 2008. “I also wanted to know what everyone was up to, where they went to college, and just see how life has been for them since high school. We danced, talked A LOT, took lots of photos, drank because we were now old enough and pretty much picked up where we left off, like we hadn’t seen each other for ten years.”
For Mary Taylor, Maui High School Class of 1981, she only made her 30th reunion. “I didn’t want to go,” she admits “but my classmates paid for me. I didn’t know a lot of my classmates as I didn’t participate in a lot of school activities because from my sophomore year, I had only two to three classes as I went to work after the third period.” Despite her initial reluctance, Mary thinks “the reunion was okay and it was nice to see my high school friends.”
For Philip, Molokai High School Class of 1963, class reunions are a special bonding time. “I go to re-connect with memories and special friendships,” he affirms. “I like the simple gathering at Onehe‘e Park, just a couple of miles past Kaunakakai town. You see Molokai is still small. You can camp if you choose or hotels are a couple of miles down the road. In any event, once we are gathered, we spend long hours on park benches eating, laughing and sharing old stories about high school days. There is a lot of teasing, joking and jovial memories as the cool ocean breeze cools my classmates. A distant sound of the waves lapping, and an occasional car passes on the highway.”
For those who didn’t go to school in Hawaii, it is sometimes a little more difficult in planning to attend a reunion. “I went back to the Philippines to visit my Dad and timed it for me to be able to attend our high school reunion as well,” recalls Liza Pierce who graduated from Quezon City Science High School in 1983. “High School was a fun time for me–I made great friends for life. It’s fun to see them in person and not just on Facebook.”
It was Liza’s thirty-fifth reunion. “For activities, we attended the Grand Alumni celebration at school and then went to the karaoke bar after. We just sang songs and reminisced the good old days.”
This past April, Juvs Macadangdang gathered with her classmates from the Ilocos Norte National High School Class of 1981 for their 42nd reunion. “It feels like you’re a teenager again when you see your classmates especially high school. There’s that ‘giggle’ feeling,” Juvs admits. “We had a gift giving activity in Claveria, Cagayan and in Sapat, Pasuquin.”
To Juvs, the importance of reunions is “to share your blessings with your friends. Somehow, it also helps to lift up friends who are under anxiety or depression.” And Juvs could not help but compare reunions to a current social phase: “To socialize, like Marites, LOL.”
Even though she also graduated from Maui High School, Dulce Karen Butay considers Holy Spirit Academy of Laoag (Class of 1995) as her alma mater. “I went to my high school class reunion in 2010. It was fifteen years since we graduated. We started with a Thanksgiving mass at St. William Cathedral Church where our school is located. We then paraded to the Pallazo Hotel in Laoag City.”
For Dulce, it was a needed break. “Reunions are important because it reconnects us to our past, regenerates our friendships, and allows us to reminisce our memories with lots of laughter which is a good therapy.” Dulce even brought back home to Hawai‘i the reunion shirts to give to those who were not able to attend.
“I attended a class reunion with my high school friends last year in the Philippines,” recalls Noel Termulo, Class of 1980 from Ateneo de Manila. “My goal was to walk the high school memory lane over again after more than forty years. We met in a small restaurant over dinner, laughed and had fellowship for hours.”
Noel notes his class is very organized. “We have a social media chat to stay connected. It’s very easy to call a meeting when someone comes from abroad like when I went home last year.”
Noel recognizes there is a need to continue to find purpose. “As we get older, we share the goal to find our bigger purpose. Our class has been successful in helping each other this way. We have rotating funds we use to fund scholarships, golf tournaments and occasionally fund medical bills for classmates who have failing health needs. We helped pay for a cardiac pacemaker and dialysis.”
“Reunions are a wonderful way to get together and catch up on their current lives both professionally and personally,” confirms Myrna Baggao Breen, Baldwin High School Class of 1978. “My classmate Kay Watanabe Fukumoto always tells me ‘You never know when that may be the last conversation you have with people who have been so important in your life.’”
Sadly, that is true. During our 40th high school class reunion, we held a simple ceremony memorializing our classmates who passed–twenty-two of them. And Bernard recently identified a few more who have passed.
“My classmate Ada Ogasawara Acain maintains a class Facebook page where almost every year now she posts about the passing of a number of our classmates,” Gil says.
In February, right before the San Francisco reunion of my Asian/Pacific Islander Law Students Association cohorts, I was checking with other Pinoys to see if they were attending as there were very few of us at UCLAW. (When I was a first year, there were only three of us in the law school–one in each class. By the time I was a third year, there were ten of us.) I posted on the Facebook page of Miglor “Butch” Inumerable to ask if he was attending. Butch was a year behind me. Within hours, Butch’s classmate Evelyn Aguilar Nozaki messaged me Butch had passed away in June 2022 after retiring in the Philippines. At the Los Angeles reunion, we remembered five members of our association who died before us. I painfully spoke about my classmate and good friend Jason Baba who died in a kayaking accident on August 17, 2001, just when his legal career was about to blossom, having been named as the Managing Partner of his law firm in Honolulu.
Arnel Alvarez agrees with my sentiments. “Knowing life is short, we need to remind ourselves good memories are very precious. When my classmates from Centro West Elementary School in Ballesteros Cagayan, Philippines (Class of 1983) decided to have a reunion in 2018, I did not hesitate to accept that invitation.”
“After so many years without seeing my classmates, it made me wonder how everyone now looked like,” Arnel relates. “I’m so happy I had that moment to catch up with them. We decided to hold the reunion at a classmate’s residence which was pretty spacious and had plenty of rooms. We decided to spend the night in his house. That night, we shared so many memories and laughter. The following day we visited our old school and remembered those wonderful memories from our childhood. Reunions are very important to me because it reminds us that life is short.”
For Rowena Dagdag-Andaya, Gonzaga University, Class of 1998, her 20th college reunion had multiple purposes.
First, it was going down memory lane. “It was a blast! Reunion weekend opened with a tour of our university retreat center and seeing my friends there after twenty years brought back wonderful memories. It felt as if we all came back to campus after a very long summer break. Our reunion weekend was packed with many activities that included receptions, lectures, a tour of the campus and its new facilities, service projects, and mass at the student chapel. I think it’s important to note reunions are also an opportunity for alumni to see how their monetary contributions are being spent in educating current students. I was amazed at the new buildings and the wide variety of academic programs being implemented at Gonzaga.”
Second, it was an important family bonding moment. “My husband Herman and our kids came with me, and while touring the campus, I pointed out the areas that were special to me and how my college experience helped me become the person I am today. Bringing our kids with me allowed them to see a college education is attainable and something we value in our family. With that said, I am forever grateful to my parents for supporting me through college and always believing in me.”
“I went to my early college class reunions because I came home after graduation while many of my classmates stayed on the East Coast,” explains Gil. “It was an opportunity to see close friends and catch up—we left school before Facebook, email and social media so it wasn’t as easy as it is now to keep in touch. I am looking forward to my 40th reunion next May.”
Ben remembers “I had several close friends in law school I studied with every day for class and exams. So when one of them called me specifically to inform me about a reunion in 2019, and having missed a couple previously, I decided to go. We had a great time and dined in a very nice restaurant in Honolulu.”
Noel is a 1987 alum of the medical college at De La Salle University. “I had a small reunion with my buddies from med school when I went home last year. I’m glad to know they are helping rural communities in the Philippines. Two of them drove hours to meet me, all the way from the Bicol region. They are practicing as a dermatologist and ENT surgeon. Another one is practicing internal medicine like me in Metro Manila. They all have a thriving medical practice.”
For those who travel to the Philippines for reunions, Noel understands the dual purpose. “One of the perks of attending a reunion is visiting my own family in Manila. I come from a family of eight. My sister Marifi Torres and I live on Maui. I have five sisters and two brothers and we all met in the Philippines. Our nieces are blessed with successful careers including Mariel Rodrigues Padilla, who is a blogger and TV commentator and married to Robin Padilla, an actor and Senator.”
Above all, reunions help us to understand where we are. As Noel says, “It warms the heart to see everyone is in the place where they want to be, all our friends and family members making our universe a better place.”
Alfredo G. Evangelista is a graduate of Maui High School (1976), the University of Southern California (1980), and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law (1983). He is a sole practitioner at Law Offices of Alfredo Evangelista, A Limited Liability Law Company, concentrating in estate planning, business and nonprofit corporations. He has practiced law for 39 years (since 1983) and returned home in 2010 to be with his family and to marry his high school sweetheart, the former Basilia Tumacder Idica, a 1978 alum of Maui High School.