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How to win friends and influence people with a journalism degree

by Christy Chalmers

Have you heard the joke about why some high school classes don’t have reunions?

It’s a simple joke that can be adapted to any school or place. The punch line: the county jail won’t allow that many visitors at once.

I’m not saying this joke necessarily applies to my alma mater. I can’t say that, because I’ve kept in touch with only one classmate in the 10 years since graduation, and I have no idea where the rest of them are, or why.

I don’t expect to find out, either. This is reunion season and I have not heard a word about one for the Sutter High School class of 1990.

Not that I think I’m missing anything. I observed my husband’s 10-year reunion last summer, and my impression then was of attending a high school dance with legal alcohol. There were a lot of insincere hugs and professions of too much time spent apart, and some deliberate posturing from people who wanted to show how much they’d changed.

But the evening did provide me with time to think about how I could respond to those questions about how have you been and what have you been doing, etc.

I was one of the good kids in high school. I was quiet and got good grades and was not notorious for anything but putting the driver’s ed car in a ditch during my first day of behind-the-wheel training. I was not perfect, but never got caught being imperfect and that’s all I have to say about that.

Still, I could construe lots of changes, given the chance.

The conversation might start with a reference to someone else’s notoriety. They’re always in the paper, the classmate will say.

Yeah, I could reply, I can relate to that. For a while I was getting my name in the paper about every day. Sometimes on the front page.

Not so much anymore, though, I’ll add. Just a couple days a week now.

Well, the classmate might joke, at least the local police have something to do.

Of course they do, I’ll agree. My colleagues and I manage to keep them pretty busy. Hey, I’m on a first-name basis with half the sheriff’s department. And the local judges, too.

The classmate will be giving me a harder look now. So you’ve been to court?

Sure. I’m in there usually once a week, sometimes more.

The classmate is looking around nervously now. Ever been in the jail?

You bet, I’ll answer as casually as possible, if I could even be keeping a straight face by now. But only about once a year. Actually, the one I usually go in is really well known for its food…

At this point the classmate is murmuring something about how much we’ve all changed, and it’s been nice but they really should go say hello to some other people. And that could make the evening pretty interesting.

I would never be able to pull that off, but if I could, I’d have to figure out how to work in the part about why I know all that stuff – namely that writing for newspapers means covering courts and cops and that brings you into contact with insider information like jails and their cuisine.

Did I mention why we’re not having a 10-year reunion?