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Reunion and community

07/31/06 12:00AM By Frank Bryan
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(HOST) Summertime is reunion time. Family reunions are center-stage right now, and class reunions have been filling up the calendar for weeks. Commentator Frank Bryan has been considering why reunions are compelling for so many of us, and he thinks he's found the answer.

(BRYAN) We hear a lot about community these days.

Why?

I see the answer early every summer when I attend the reunion of the graduates of Newbury High School.

As in other small towns, it's a reunion for all the classes that ever graduated from the school - the kind of get-together - like family reunions or the "old home days" of bygone years - that bespeaks a call to community in its most fundamental sense.

Consider Newbury's class of 1956 returning for their 50th reunion.

What percent of the class would one reasonably expect to be in attendance?

Ten? Twenty?

Try Seventy!

And it's not because they still live in town.

Only ten percent of these graduates live in Newbury. Thirty percent live in nearby towns. All the others live out of state. One came 2500 miles.

No. Something happened to these people when they attended the little high school on the village green so long ago - something that draws them back.

Community.

Because Newbury was small, the students grew to know each other well. What playwright Jonathan Miller calls the essential source of human relationships - complicated and dutiful interaction - were as much a part of their lives as the air they breathed.

Each student a recognized individual; each student a part of the whole.

Were pain and anguish, duplicity and bias and all the other natural infirmities of the human condition part of the town of Newbury and its school?

You bet.

But in the end and overall, one incandescent truth emerges. Community heals. Community gives breathing space to what Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature."

You see - even though it was big for its time, the graduating class of 1956 in Newbury numbered only fourteen. Since then two have died, but ten of the remaining twelve were in attendance at their 50th reunion.

Newbury high school closed in 1971. Too small, they said. Only 374 of its graduates remain alive today.

Small towns with their little schools are a homeland of the heart that sustains our civil order.

Without them - as scholars from Tocqueville to John Dewey to Robert Putnam have warned us - there can be no Vermonts.

And without Vermonts there can be no America.

Frank Bryan is a writer and teaches political science at the University of Vermont.
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