Client The Advocate
Categories Features
Date 08-29-2008

Jeff Clarke decided not to attend his 10-year Norwalk High School reunion in 2003.

A lot of his friends from high school had moved and weren’t going, so Clarke, a Stamford resident, figured he wouldn’t bother getting dressed up and traveling to the Norwalk Inn, facing the possibility that there would be no one there he wanted to talk to.

But Clarke doesn’t think he missed out on much. Since he joined Facebook last year, every day is a high school reunion.

“Even people you might not have been super friendly with, because all the cliques are removed, you have the opportunity to connect with them again,” Clarke, 33, said of Facebook. “You kind of build back a relationship.”

Social networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace are changing how high school classes reunite. Though people have long used the Internet to reconnect with old friends, the sites make it easier to keep track of dozens of classmates beyond the big, planned, once-a-decade events.

On Facebook, which according to the company has 90 million active users and is one of the most-trafficked social networking sites in the world, people post pictures of vacations, play games with one another and can give an update on their lives in one sentence by answering the question, what are you doing right now?

In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg, then a Harvard University sophomore, created Facebook as a way for students there to connect. The site soon expanded to include all college students, then high schoolers. By 2006, anyone could join.

Clarke, who works in information technology, comments on the family photos his former classmates post on Facebook, and some Norwalk High alumni are in his online fantasy football league.

“We’re not the best of friends or anything,” Clarke said. “You kind of see what they’re about without having to ask. I think if you run into them at the reunion it’s kind of a one-day thing, and then you go back to your separate lives that are totally disconnected.”

For some twentysomethings, online social networking has made organizing the official reunions easier.

Lauren Zalis, who is planning the 10-year reunion for Stamford High School’s Class of 1998, found about 75 former classmates out of more than 300 through Facebook with minimal effort. Zalis said she intends to take a look at the school’s alumni directory, which has contact information, but they’re outdated.

Nick Nickitas, 23, is planning a five-year reunion for Greenwich High School’s Class of 2003 solely through Facebook. In less than a day, 125 people, about a quarter of the senior class, joined the Facebook group designed to plan the event.

“If I had done a mailing . . . there’s no way for me to be absolutely sure that they would see it,” said Nickitas, who was senior class president and now heads business development for a software startup in New York City. “We’re using it because . . . kids in my generation now, this is the way we used to stay in touch with each other.”

Zalis, an occupational therapist who recently moved back to Stamford from Washington, D.C., wonders whether excitement for the Nov. 28 Stamford High reunion will be diminished because of Facebook.

“You don’t have to ask someone, ‘So what are you up to?’ ” Zalis said. “Because you most likely already know and have seen pictures of it.”

But Dayna DeSimone thinks Facebook has made her former classmates more fired up for Wilton High School’s 10-year reunion in November.

Half of the 180 members of the Wilton High Class of 1998 are part of a Facebook group for the event.

“I think people will be more inclined to come because of the momentum of getting in touch with people from the past,” said DeSimone, 28, who was senior class president.

The site also has inspired mini-reunions. DeSimone, who lives in New York City, has been talking online with some former classmates and fellow city dwellers about getting together for drinks.

In April, Clarke got a second chance at real, live high school reunion. His classmate, Jaclyn DiProspero DeLuca, organized what they called a Norwalk Night Out through Facebook and MySpace. About 50 people in their 30s who graduated from Norwalk High or Brien McMahon gathered at the Black Bear Saloon in SoNo.

DeLuca, who now lives in Guilford, said she may have enjoyed it more than her official reunion five years ago. There has been talk on Facebook of having another get-together around the holidays.

“It’s a more relaxed atmosphere,” said DeLuca, 33. “There’s more pressure for a high school reunion than a night on the town.”

Even though he’s only five years removed from high school and can see what his old friends are up to with the click of a mouse, Nickitas said he looks forward to seeing them in person.

“It doesn’t matter what you post on your Facebook,” Nickitas said. “Ultimately, face-to-face interaction is what’s most important.”