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Columnist Valerie Schultz

My husband and I met and became friends and fell in love when we were theater students at the University of Dallas in the last century. Decades of marriage and four daughters later, we’d been invited to a reunion covering 50 years of the UD drama department.

This reunion spoke to us. We hadn’t attended our class reunions by year, mine being 1979 and his 1980, because in the drama department, you spent all your time not with your classmates by age, but with other drama students, no matter your year. The college friends we still had were almost all drama people. We bought our plane tickets for a weekend in Irving, Texas.

Where it was raining like crazy. Cats and dogs. Flooded streets. We’d forgotten about Texas rain after years of praying for it in parched California.

I don’t know when I last hugged people as hard as I did the classmates we found in our hotel lobby. For some of us, that hug was 40 years in the making. We had gone many separate ways and done many marvelous things, but here we were, back at UD.

A gracious classmate who lives in Dallas had arranged a dinner for 20 in a little room at a restaurant. We shook out our umbrellas and went to greet our past. Dinner was not part of the university reunion, but an informal launch of a weekend of memories.

What a roomful of wonders. Some of us had gone gray or bald, and some of us had good stylists. Some of us were fit, and some of us had softened. Most of us had lines and wrinkles where we’d once been smooth and unformed. Our life journeys included staying single and coming out, marrying and divorcing, having kids and losing loved ones. All of us were just freaking delighted to see each other. Dinner lasted for hours, thanks to the patient wait staff. When we finally exited the room, the rain had stopped and the restaurant was empty.

Saturday marked the official festivities for the drama department. While our friends spanned the classes of roughly 1976-83, this event celebrated those from the beginnings of the university in the 1960s to present-day students. There were plenty of people we did not know, but we recognized faces that filled our hearts with joy. Any old rivalries or resentments evaporated in sheer gratitude for the present.

Our beloved professors, a married couple who had retired 10 years ago, introduced us to the new professors of the drama department, who were also former students. Our professors were as affectionate and animated as ever. As one of their old students, I can say that we all love and revere them: We know that we would be lesser human beings without their vibrant and formative influence. Seeing them was magical.

Slideshows on a loop showed the stills from decades of UD shows. There we were, costumed and made up for Greek tragedy or Shakespeare or what-have-you, posing, emoting, fresh-faced and earnest. For some of us, theater is a memory, our post-college lives blazing other paths. But for some, theater is a career. Some, in fact, couldn’t make the reunion because of theatrical commitments. A few are even a little famous.

The current drama majors, all younger than my youngest child, filled out nametags indicating our year of graduation. A young woman whose tag read “Class of 2020” wrote “1979” on mine, and smiled sweetly. The students poured wine and offered canapés. They chatted with us about the fall production and offered a tour of the much-improved theater facilities. I wondered if they were getting extra credit to entertain the visitors from the past.

That night, after a long day, we gathered one last time, we intimates who rarely saw one another, at the Dallas home of a welcoming friend. We stayed too late, as though time would stand still for a night. We FaceTimed a friend who could not be with us. We talked about everything, we old pals: past, present, future. We laughed like crazy. We shared our life passions. Somehow, we hadn’t outgrown each other. We ordered pizza. We drank too much. I might’ve caught a whiff of something else we hadn’t outgrown.

“You know what I just realized?” my husband said. “When I tell a student from the class of 2020 that I graduated in 1980, it would be like if, when we were in school, some old guy told us he was from the class of 1940.”

We sat with that perspective for a minute. We knew exactly what our young, brash selves would have thought of the guy from 1940: old, old, old. A little adorable, a little pathetic.

Exactly us on this day.

Well.

We were OK with it.

Sometimes the heart — my heart — is too full to process its emotional input. I feel I was given something so precious at this reunion. I will always treasure this gift, as I have learned to treasure love in all its incarnations.

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