Guide to Planning a 10 Year High School Reunion
Many people recoil at the thought of going back to their high school class reunion. The stereotype is that they lack-luster and can be awkward, but I am here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way! Here is a guide to how we organized our reunion and had the time of our lives.
I grew up in the small town of Louisa, Ky where the graduating classes at Lawrence County High School (LCHS) had around 120-150 kids. The tradition of the school is to host a class officer election and whomever is elected as president your senior year is who will be in charge of organizing the class reunions for all the years to come. I absolutely lived for being the class president during my 4 years of high school as it came with the responsibility of planning all the school dances, social events, prom, graduation, and most importantly - Homecoming. (Honestly, this is where I realized at a very young age that I wanted to plan events for the rest of my life!) I knew that signing up for the job senior year came with the responsibility of planning all the reunions, but what I didn't expect is to have almost zero instruction on how to plan one!
Fortunately for me, I married the love of my life - who happened to go to the same high school as me and coincidentally is the president of his class! Brennon graduated in 2010, and I graduated in 2011. Our classes were very close in school, and we were unlike most as we kept up with many of the friendships that we had throughout high school. Originally we had every intention of having a separate reunion for both classes, but when Brennon's plans for his reunion fell through due to the madness of 2020, we quickly realized that maybe having a joint 10 year reunion would be the best way to go.
Once the decision was made to host the reunions together, we scoured the internet for advice on how to throw a class reunion. What we were met with was outdated advice and negative outlooks. I realized that we were going to have to figure most things out on our own as there was no "guide book" on hosting a class reunion!
Another unexpected obstacle was hearing terrible reviews from our friends about the reunions prior to ours. In a small town people talk about these parties, and I had noticed there appeared to be a curse on classes who preceded ours with awful stories about their reunions. When you add the feeling of uncertainty, the awkwardness of seeing each other for the first time since high school, and the fact that we have all grown into the environments of our adult lives where we are most comfortable - I can see why people are so hesitant to attend! The combination of all of these stories and feelings honestly made me wonder if class reunions were a thing of the past and something the millennial generation just didn't want to fool with.
Brennon and I stepped up to the task even though the odds were stacked against us. We knew we would need to re-work the narrative and change the party dynamics completely in order to pull off a successful reunion.
Advice from Local Reunion Pros
Even though information about reunions was hard to come by online, there were many local friends and family members that gave us valuable advice who had planned them before. Here were the three best pieces of advice we received prior to planning any event details:
Don't use any of the money contributed to purchase alcohol. Sometimes your guests have different opinions on drinking and it is never a good idea to use party funds for that use. Instead, have people bring their own alcohol if they wish to drink.
If someone doesn't pay their share, it's not worth the argument. Just let it go and let people have fun. You never know what situation they might be facing. If you are hosting, you are likely going to take on some financial burdens of the party and should expect it before you begin planning.
As a host, it's going to be hard at times. There are a lot of opinions you are going to have to compete with. Just stay focused and do the best you can.
With those three pieces of advice in our back pocket, we started forming our party.
Creating a class Facebook group was the first step to organizing our classes. We generated two separate groups for the two classes. This created an online community for us to make announcements easily and efficiently. Yes, there are some people who have abandoned the platform, but it got the job done brilliantly. For those classmates who were no longer on Facebook, we relied heavily on word of mouth and reaching out directly when we could.
Ticketing & RSVPify
There appears to be two popular ways of funding a reunion. One is to ask classmates to donate any amount of funding to the event and the total of donations sets your budget for the event. The other is for the organizer to sell tickets to the event at a set price to pay for party expenses, and the total guest count drives your budget for the party. We chose the latter as we felt that it was the best option for our friends and the party we aimed to have.
Ticket sales were possible for us through the use of RSVPify - which is an online RSVP service that lets you create a simple website for your event. We were able to create a landing page for all reunion details, post photos, share parking & hotel information, and most importantly guests could purchase their tickets online! We also elected to give guests the option to pay at the door with cash as long as they committed via the RSVP link.
Creating the Hype
We announced the specifics of the reunion about 4 months prior to the actual event. Once the event got closer, we essentially ran a small social media campaign of old photos and funny memes to create a fun environment online well before the reunion even occurred. I am of the opinion that this connection is what granted us the large turnout in the end. Plus, we were able to pin the RSVPify link to the top of our group page for class members to easily access anytime. The best part is that we will be able to continue using the same group on Facebook for years to come, whereas an event page on Facebook eventually expires.
Things You Will Need
In order to have any type of event, you need a handful of supplies to pull off the right atmosphere for your party. This is a list of the things we gathered in advance to host:
- A venue that matches the vibe you
want to have
- Great food
- Multiple activities or games for your
guests to play
- Impactful Decorations
- Welcome Sign so guests know they
are in the right place
- Class Memorabilia, Yearbooks, Old
- Speakers/Sound System with
- Check-in Sheet for Guests
- Money Bag & Change
- Name Tags & Sharpies (we didn't
use these, but I kinda wish we did!
Next time, we will.)
Venue, Food, & Drinks
In our little hometown, there are a small handful of venues to host a party. Traditionally class reunions for nearly all LCHS Alumni fall on the same weekend as our town festival, Septemberfest. It is a great time to catch people in town, but we were in direct competition for venues across town for a lot of different micro events that surround the festival. I have to admit, I called in a massive favor for us to host a reunion at my favorite local restaurant in town, the Down Home Grill.
It was important for us to be able to find a venue to fit our crowd, the vibe we wanted, have plenty of parking, and cater the food. We also needed a place that had a progressive view on alcohol as our generation never would have attended a party that didn't allow drinks. This is a unique problem for the area we grew up in due to the local views and laws on alcohol. We decided that guests could freely BYOB and we would provide food & soft drinks. This worked out great and was a judgement free zone!
When it comes to food, the Down Home Grill absolutely killed it. The spread included chicken tenders, fries, blooming onions, a build your own salad bar, pasta salad, ham sandwiches, chicken salad sandwiches, cookies, and brownies. It was perfect for people that came hungry and for those that just wanted a small bite to eat.
Decorations & Memorabilia
I contacted another favorite local vendor friend of mine to help with decorations. Fly Away Balloons constructed a gorgeous balloon garland to place on the Down Home Grill's fireplace. The ladies with Fly Away Balloons also made us a stunning set of balloon numbers saying 2010 & 2011, along with a couple balloon bouquets. This was the best route to go for decorations as it had such high visual impact, yet it was an affordable option to add pops of our school colors throughout the restaurant.
I hand painted a welcome sign in my spare time and used an easel from my wedding rental inventory through Edin Events. We had a small number of flower arrangements donated from a local gardener and used red & white shredded crinkle cut paper around the base of them. I am so pleased with how it all turned out!
For the memorabilia table, we had all sorts of photos and trinkets leftover from high school. Although this section of the party was small, we felt that it was necessary to have some memories for people to look through during the event. I think my favorite piece of memorabilia was a backpack that everyone was given for our Louisa Abroad Trip where both classes of 2010 and 2011 went to France & Italy. That trip really bonded everyone together and is one of my personal favorite memories of high school!
Games & Activities
You can't have a party without some games to entertain guests and engage conversation! To start the night we had two sets of corn hole boards set up outside in the parking lot in front of the restaurant. Corn hole is a classic, nearly everyone enjoys playing it, and it is a low effort game people can play with a cold drink in their hand. It also doubled as a nice way to spread the party attendants out and utilize the outside area verses having everyone crammed inside the restaurant. This gave everyone the space they needed to mingle at their own comfort level and feel safe in a Covid world.
Weeks before the reunion, we made sure to announce for everyone to start practicing their karaoke songs. We set karaoke up for the last half of the reunion and it was an absolute hit. We had speakers on the inside and the outside of the restaurant, so no matter where you were at the party you would be included in the fun!
Lastly, when we got a bit of a buzz going.. we pulled a table outside from the restaurant and played a classic drinking game of Flip Cup! I love this game as you can involve lots of people and it encourages teamwork. We only played it for a few rounds, but it brought back a ton of memories!
So how did it go you ask? It went better than I ever could have anticipated. I think we really uncovered something special and revived a tradition that seemed to be on its way out for the graduates of our school. There was zero drama, everyone was genuinely happy to be there, and we had a freaking blast!
The joint reunion was such a success, I don't see how we could ever go back to having a singular class reunion. Having both classes to pull attendees from was amazing and we ended up having a grand total of 50 people show up. That is a terrific turnout for the size of our graduating classes and to go up against the reunion curse. I think it would be even more of a hit to start to look at 5 year blocks of classes to host reunions together, which is normally reserved for the later reunion years. In this case, I am a firm believer in the more the merrier.
Our only regret is not hiring or assigning someone the task of being a photographer as we were all having so much fun that we hardly documented the event. Next time, I will definitely make sure that happens. I also don't recommend having a pay at the door option for guests as it leaves you a little vulnerable to guests just not showing up on the day of the event, but it really didn't matter in the end. We didn't let it get us down!
I wanted to write this to share how we did things for our small town high school reunion and to change the online narrative of outdated reunion advice. I wanted people to have a source for a positive experience. I know my little event planner blog isn't front page news, but if it helps one person out there then it did its job!
Words can't express how grateful I am for everyone who helped make it a success. I have to give a shout out to one of my best friends & the 2011 Vice President, Megan Preston. She did a tremendous amount of work to help put this thing on as well and she is always a source of strength for me. Brennon and I couldn't have pulled it off without her!
So here's to class reunions! I'm sending you all the love and encouragement if you are planning one. I hope this helps you. If you are on the fence about attending a reunion, know that someone worked really hard to bring that event to your group and you should try to go if you can. You never know, you might actually have a great time!