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.
"You grow up thinking older people died. To find out a contemporary has died is a terrible shock, and it's a comment on your own mortality," she said. "This is somebody you went to school with, that you got on the school bus with, that you went to kindergarten with. It hits very close to home, and people are upset to see that."
Is your class typical?At our request, a Florida actuarial firm agreed to calculate the expected number of deaths by various high school reunion dates. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Social Security Administration, Wakely Actuarial, based in Palm Harbor, Fla., provided rough averages for the American population as a whole. It assumed each class had an equal number of men and women. On average, a graduating class of 330 seniors could expect the following number of classmates to die:
- Three by the 10-year reunion.
- Seven by the 20-year reunion.
- Fifteen by the 30-year reunion.
- Thirty-two by the 40-year reunion.
- Seventy by the 50-year reunion.
What to expect for your classTo estimate the statistical death-rate norm for any class size, Polasky provided the following rough figures:
- 10 year reunion -- 1 death per 100 graduates.
- 20 year reunion -- 1 death per 50 graduates.
- 30 year reunion -- 1 death per 20 graduates.
- 40 year reunion -- 1 death per 10 graduates.
- 50 year reunion -- 1 death per five graduates.
In addition, the class of 1984 can expect to see more classmates at its 60th reunion than the class of 1954 will at its 60th this year, thanks to great leaps in longevity experienced in the 20th century.After attending his own reunion with "too many reminders of 'Time's Wing'ed Chariot,' " former talk-show host Dick Cavett, writing in the The New York Times, wondered why he'd yet to attend another. "I have an odd theory," he writes. "Could it be an irrational fear of walking in to that registration room on Day One and -- in a moment out of 'The Twilight Zone' -- discovering my own picture on the 'Those Who Have Left Us' wall?”