I just returned home, happy and renewed from our 3rd annual Lakenheath High School reunion in Hermosa Beach, California. You can read my entire post about last year’s reunion here, or the excerpt below which explains why this is not a typical high school reunion.
I went to high school at Lakenheath High School at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England. This school is one of many Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) for children of American military, Department of Defense employees and civilians working for American firms overseas.
I am an Air Force brat and my family lived in Lakenheath for three years in the late 1970s. This was during the Cold War and U.S.A.F. members and their families rotated in and out of this base constantly. Old friends may leave or new friends may arrive at any time. The teachers and their children were a more constant presence as they generally stayed for much longer terms. I learned from the daughter of a teacher this weekend that her parents were at Lakenheath for twenty years.
I can’t speak for all Department of Defense school reunions, but our Lakenheath reunions are not the type most Americans would recognize. Because our school is physically in England, any reunion on site would be very expensive and probably have fairly low attendance. So our reunions are held throughout the United States on a rotating basis, generally in larger cities with airports nearby for easy travel. The organizers do this so that anyone who is interested should be close enough to attend at some point.
Another important difference from a standard high school reunion is that we don’t limit these shindigs to a particular graduating class. You don’t even need to have actually graduated from Lakenheath to be welcome. I moved at the end of my junior year, so graduated from another school, even though my heart was still with the people with whom I’d spent the previous three years. We had people this weekend who attended the elementary school or the junior high school rather than the high school. Doesn’t matter. All are welcome.
Lakenheath in the late 70s was a fairly sheltered and isolated society. We were an American community inside a foreign country, even though that country was mostly friendly and mostly spoke the same language. Actually, for some on the base it wasn’t even a foreign country as they had a British parent, usually their mum.
This relative isolation from the United States and the diversity of those within the community made us interdependent and tolerant. We were far away from our extended families and the friends we had left behind at the last base. This was the 70s so we didn’t have email. We had to write actual letters on paper to friends and family and then mail them and wait weeks for a reply. We didn’t have cell phones to allow constant contact. My family didn’t even have a house phone for the three years we were there.
When I went to the first Hermosa Beach reunion in 2013, I didn’t know a single person. But because we all had the shared experience of the particular time and place that was Lakenheath in the 1970s, that didn’t matter. I felt I was immediately and unconditionally accepted. We shared a bond, a history, that helped define the paths we chose and shaped us into who we are today.
This year we had people from the classes of 1971 through 1981 who traveled to the Sea Sprite Motel from all over the U.S. Some were new to our gathering, while some had attended every year. We all shared laughter, music, stories, food, drinks, ideas, sunsets, squabbles, hugs, new experiences, and always, love. So to my Lakenheath family, thank you.