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[Opinion] School Reunions

Posted November. 26, 2002 23:00,   


At this time around the year when the weather gets cold, it’s a season for alumni functions. Most people have at least four functions they have to attend – primary, middle, high school and university reunions. You suddenly realize the lapse of time when you met a friend from your early school years, who has now become a grandmother with white hair. The traces of the past years are more visible on the faces of female alumni than male ones. So women really feel sorry as the meeting draws to an end, while men jokingly say that it’s no fun dating with old women. If you are from rural areas, you might go back to the innocent years back at home with those schoolmates who remember playing on mountainsides and streams.

When you go to middle and high school reunions, chances are you will only find men since you went to men’s school not allowed to sit beside girls. For those who went to school to elite schools in big cities like Seoul, they will meet people in power or associates to political big wigs. Throughout the rise and fall of governments from TK to PK and to MK, you would read the direction of the power shift if you were from those elite schools that organize reunions at first-class hotels in Seoul. Once being high-ranking officials surrounded by followers, most are gone like fallen leaves when a new government comes in place. In some years, therefore, the mood is sullen due to the rise and fall of men as well as the cold weather.

You feel more relaxed at university alumni functions when it comes to political maneuvering, since they are bound to be more neutral with people from many different parts of the country mixed together. In our political climate, school relations are considered one of three evil traditions along with regionalism and kinship. In advanced countries that are in much part free from corrupt politics, alumni functions are gatherings where participants make contributions to their schools. Harvard University makes it a rule to invite alumni representatives to a review committee for selection of the president of the school. And children of those who made donations to the school will get credits when they apply for admission. Some so-called Ivy League schools have introduced small functions where couples meet for golfing, cocktail parties, dining or night out.

It will be refreshing and meaningful to take some time out from exhausting life of endless competition and have some time with old friends from school years. In this country where school relations become problematic in conjunction with regionalism and kinship, however, school reunions are considered a malign cancer that spreads social ills. The Central Election Commission yesterday said that it would ban any alumni function during the election campaign period. Although it now seems to soften its stance facing growing criticism, it will still be violating the law if the gatherings invite presidential candidates, politicians and their families. School reunions must not be the only one polluted by our corrupt politics, however.

Hong Ho-taek, Editorial Writer, hthwang@donga.com