Planning a Reunion

We’ll put the band back together, do a few gigs, we get some bread. Bang! Five thousand bucks.

Yeah, well, getting the band back together might not that be that easy, Jake.

The Blues Brothers

High School Reunion Planning

Planning a reunion is work, but, with a methodical approach, you can do it. Here are a few ideas that might get you thinking. This is hardly an exhaustive list. 

Unless you are a professional event planner, consider getting a team around you. And be ready to lead. There are professional services which can plan high school events, so if you are in the position to hire them, consider that as well. There are two sides to the professional planner debate that you should consider.

Professional planners will have experience, connections, and data, or at least have access to data. They’ll know which venues are most compatible with your goals. They will work quickly, as they don’t have to learn the job on the job as you might. They’ll have connections with DJs and musicians. Even if you are doing it in your school gym, they’ll know which catering companies are the best choice.

The obvious downside is a professional planner will charge money. This is their job and their services will not be free, nor should it be.

You, in turn, have to wear all the hats. If you’ve got a good committee, you will have people specializing in each category. Each of them needs to be organized, focused, and diligent.

Here is your list:

  • Reunion Director. That’s the person making the big decisions, guiding discussions and managing other volunteers. They’re also the person who will need to do the most work.
  • Treasurer. That person is the bookkeeper / accountant of the group. You want somebody who does this professionally to be your volunteer. You might have thousands of dollars involved in this, and so you want somebody watching the kitty. This person needs to be ethical.
  • Marketing Director. They will do everything involved with getting people to show up. They might oversee your graduation years Facebook page and other social media. They’ll track down where classmates are. They will send out physical or email invitations, and then track the RSVPs.
  • Decorations Director. Let’s say you’re doing an 80s theme. You need someone to come up with some movie posters, musician paraphernalia, and other pop culture stuff. you might also have them work with the school to come up with memorabilia. Maybe you bring in some framed photos of people from back in the day. If you have a Hall of Fame wall, for example, find the people who are yours. see if you can’t get other school memorabilia, like jackets and hats. Those can be hung on hangers which are then hung on walls.
  • Food Director. What’s a good party without some good eats? If you are hiring a caterer, this is the person who manages that relationship. If you are doing a potluck, somebody needs to make sure you have enough chicken, a vegetarian option, and desserts. Or, at the very list, coordinate with the local pizza place that on a certain date, you’ll need 100 pizzas delivered.

The most important part of planning an event is the actual planning. While that sounds redundant, planning is merely making a list of things to do in the order they need to be done, accounting for the material and financial resources required. It also recognizes when you need help from others.

In other words, plan to plan.

Start early. You’ll hear that from anyone who’s ever organized an event. In the case of a high school reunion, this is especially important as you are learning how to do this as you go. You need time for mistakes. You need time to get the team together. You need time to find a venue. You need time to find your classmates.

How early? You already know it’s coming. If you graduated in 1985, you know that 2025 is coming. You should plan at least one year in advance.

The first thing you really want to get started on is getting a database of your classmates. You know roughly how many graduated, and you know roughly how many of them are still in your personal circle.

Create a spreadsheet that lists their name, address, and so forth. On your spreadsheet you’ll want to include a column for those people who have passed away. You also want a column which acknowledges their maiden name as well as their married name.

Naturally, your circle that you are still in contact with is a relatively small number compared to the entire class. There may be, as in the case of Shepard High School, a dedicated alumni group. Explore all the social media outlets that the group offers. Keep in mind not everyone is active in a particular group, and they may not be active on the social media site even though they have an account.

Next up is exploring what your alma mater can offer. Call the school. Find out if they have a list that they’re willing to share. Remember that it’s probably outdated. If it’s a private high school, they work hard to keep it updated, but even then, not everyone reports back when they move.

Pick a venue. This will take a few phone calls. You could go to a traditional banquet place. They are used to large numbers and will have options that will be easy to understand. You could also go to a restaurant with a large room, a hotel conference center, or the gym of your school. Each one has strengths and weaknesses. For example, the banquet hall will expect the deposit and may not be able to handle a lot of registrations at the last minute. The restaurant probably cannot handle large numbers. A hotel conference center likely can handle whatever you throw at them, but again will be expensive. The high school gym may be the least expensive option, but you will need to bring in all the food and manage that.

Regarding venue choice, as you call around, you’ll get a sense of cost. You will also develop a stronger vision of what you would like from the venue as you learn what services they offer.

An important aspect of this then will be to create a budget. You’ll need to be realistic. With some high schools, the graduates might be able to afford a black-tie event. Conversely, for others, the high school gym with a bunch of pizzas will work perfectly.

One of the reasons for planning early is that you will be able to nail down a venue and a general program early enough so that you can send out “save the date” messages. This is especially helpful for those who would need to fly in for the event. It’s also helpful for local folks as they will be scheduling vacations.

As you start to fortify your plans, you will need to decide if children are welcome. And if so, what ages? Whatever you plan, you’ll want it to be family-friendly. This is a high school reunion, not a bachelorette party.

Spouses and children will add to your total count.

Often, reunion events are scheduled around homecoming. No, you can’t go to the homecoming dance. But you can go to the homecoming game. It’s a great icebreaker. If you let your high school know ahead of time, they can prepare a swag table. Mugs, bags, and even clothing. A football game could be a casual way for people to interact with their old friends, and release some of the stress of getting together after so many years.

You want to promote the event. Large billboards and TV commercials would be great, but you’re probably on a slightly smaller budget. Start with an existing alumni group. Not everyone will be part of that group, but sure that members of that group will know other alumni who aren’t members.

Ask for the help of the alumni group and the individual members. For example, if you went to this high school, and you are organizing an event with the date already chosen, we would be happy to create a listing and let people know on our various social media accounts that your event is coming.

Create a digital “save the date” image. It should include the date, the venue, the time, and some way to contact you. It might also include a dedicated website.

Choose a theme for your event. You might choose a no-theme theme. That is you just have people gather. Your engagement will increase if you make it a little more fun. If you graduated in the 80s, you could choose one of several types of 80s themes. Of course, you would play music that was popular when you graduated, and you might even offer a prize for the person who dresses in the most 80s type clothing. Break out the Prince and Michael Jackson. Spin some Hall and Oates and Duran Duran. Rock out to Bon Jovi and Def Leppard.

If the venue has a screen, you could play movies that were popular then. For you 1985 grads, for example, you could play The Breakfast Club.

If you have a DJ or band, make sure that they are exciting emcees as well. You’ll want them to ask questions or lead games.

You could have real prizes as provided by local sponsors. They would pay for the prize as well as a financial investment. Their name would also go on the program.

The questions would have real answers. Those answers might be specific like the name of a principal. Or, they might be open ended, like what was their favorite meal.

You could do something similar with some in the band who still can play, or someone in musical theater who might remember a song.

The point is engagement, to have fun, and encourage laughter.

Some potential questions

  1. Who was the principal of the school?
  2. What was the name of the student newspaper?
  3. What was your favorite meal in the cafeteria?
  4. Name a teacher you had a crush on.
  5. Joe, I understand in 1984, you were in German club and in that club, you learned a special dance. Come up here and show us.

You could have plants. You see question #5. You would talk to Joe ahead of time. He, in turn, could prepare, and even talk to his German club friends into joining him after a few oompas. At first, Joe might feign disinterest. The emcee would faux goad him, with the help of the audience. Sheepishly, he’d go up and then wow the audience. While he does that, throw a photo of him back in the day up on the screen.

Big Town, Small Town?

Whether you grew up in a small town or a big city, you can plan activities. If your graduating class was especially large, these can be helpful. If you have 150 people at your dinner, conversations with everybody will be difficult.

Think about what you liked to do back in the day.

In Chicago, a big social activity might be going to the local forest preserves and playing some 16-inch softball. It might be a tour of the high school. It could be a barbecue in a park.

Remember, the point of the activities is reconnection, not the activity itself. So it needs to be a good activity that’s affordable by all, but also allows conversation. It’s not the time to go to the opera.

Speaking of activities, buy name tags and markers. If you really want to get organized, and you should, get them pre-printed. They might say something like below.

Jane Smith (Jones) (Current Name, Maiden Name)
Albuquerque, NM (Current Location)
Algebra (Favorite Subject)

You can switch out your favorite subject with your favorite band, or your favorite movie from that era. That’s something you would need to collect when they are registering.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There’s a lot to do and you need to take the job seriously.

As an added tip: Have the finances open to your team. You want to be transparent for the sake of ethics.

Here’s a checklist for you.

At least a year in advance

  1. Talk to some people behind the scenes to form a committee. You want to make sure the people not only have the ability to do the job but the time and the commitment. this is more than just pulling your friends together.
  2. Develop a ballpark budget. You are going to need some money on the front end to get things rolling. This isn’t your actual budget. Instead, it’s you and your committee brainstorming what you think all the needs are, filling some numbers into a box, and adding it up.
  3. Consider talking with a business that might want to help with this and, in turn, they would get some capacity to sponsor things in a way that benefits them. You can get several sponsors, and create a goodie bag for your guests.
  4. Brainstorm with your committee a list of everybody you can think of. Bring your yearbooks with you when you meet. You can start by creating a spreadsheet of everybody in your graduating class. Then, go through that list and see which of those people you still have contact with.

Around 10 months in advance

  1. Pick a date. You stick with this date. you plan with this date in mind. It will be etched in stone.
  2. Keep squaring out your budget. Get as many real numbers in every box as you can, from the cost of the venue to the cost of stamps on invites.
  3. Send out your save-the-date invites. You can do this by email and through social media.
  4. Expect preliminary RSVPs.
  5. Finalize and book your caterer and venue.
  6. Take photos of the venue. You will use this information later to plan the décor.
  7. Finalize and book your DJ or band.

Around six months in advance

  1. Send follow-up invites. Phrase it so that it says that you are reminding them oh, and letting them know it would be helpful to know who’s coming.
  2. Speak to the school about getting memorabilia did you can use
  3. Speak to florists and plan the décor of the room.

3 or 4 months in advance

  1. Have guests send you photos, or go on to your high school alumni page and get permission to use photos. You can use these for displays, slideshows, and marketing material.
  2. Send final invites.
  3. Invite some people to help you with last minute stuff. the secondary volunteers will help things run smoothly in the last month.

The last month or so

  1. Call in your secondary volunteers.
  2. Print name tags.
  3. Ready your registration table information. That could include guest lists, a memory book for each guest.
  4. Prep your goodie bags.
  5. Deliver final meal count with your caterer.

The day of the reunion

  1. Start the day with a good night’s sleep. You going to be busy directing things as well as enjoying the party.
  2. Bring your team together as well as secondary volunteers
  3. Get to the venue early, supplied with your goodie bags, name tags, and decorations.
  4. Work like mad to get everything set up. Your secondary volunteers will be instrumental in helping keep the energy going.
  5. Set up your registration table.

The day after the reunion

  1. Sleep until noon. You earned it.

The Monday after the reunion

  1. Deposit any remaining money into the bank.
  2. Pay the vendors any remaining costs.
  3. If you invested money, pay yourself back (without interest).

As soon as you can after the reunion

  1. Meet with your organizers and other volunteers to discuss what went well and what needs improving.
  2. If there’s significant money left over, donate it to the booster club or a homeless shelter.
  3. If there’s just a little money left from tickets, treat your planning group to a meal (or use it to offset lunch). Do not keep any of the extra money for yourself.

Is this all you need to do? Hardly. Nor is it the only way. It can help you think through things.

Let us know your ideas.

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