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TheStreet Open House

High school reunion shocker: They're dying off!





Forget the fun, warped mirrors of amusement parks. At your high school reunion, you'll experience true terror: an irrefutably accurate reflection of the march of time.

For the price of a single ticket home, you can witness the horrifying truth that your former classmates -- and you -- are getting old. Going gray, getting bald, growing soft. Dying.

No one is spared the jolt of this realization, and John Weeks, a geography professor at San Diego State University is no exception.   He was startled by what seemed like a long list of deceased classmates from his and his wife's 50th high school reunion.

"Our first reaction was shock at the number -- 43 out of a graduating class of 412 -- 10 percent," he writes on his educational blog, Weeks Population.

So Weeks did some research. Using life expectancy tables from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he calculated the expected rate of death for men and woman of his generation. Double shock: His class was actually faring better than most.

In his class, 1962, 12 percent of the women had died, on par with the national average of 13 percent. But -- and if his class tally was complete -- only 9 percent of the men had died, well below the expected norm of 21 percent by the age of 68.

"In all events, it was sobering to realize that the initial number of dead classmates was not higher than we should have expected," Weeks wrote.

Wait, they died?

To younger graduates, a 20 percent mortality rate among great-grandparents might not seem surprising. So what can they expect when they pass the memorial table at their own earlier, more hair-abundant, reunions?

"It's always a shock," says Bari Belosa, who has organized more than 10,000 reunions as president  of Reunions Unlimited, in New Jersey. It remains startling news even as Facebook extends the social grapevine.

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