That was the title of our 40th class reunion, which I attended last weekend. Not just the 40th, but my first reunion, since graduating in 1982 from Princeton. Why have I never gone back before and why this year? Two primary reasons for my absence: distance and sobriety. I’ve lived in Los Angeles since 1986, and I’ve been sober since June of 1985. I had this idea that reunions were a bunch of old people in tents drinking until the grass got soggy. Not my idea of a good time.
And what made me want to go this year? I give large credit to our class secretary, Jordan Becker, who along with the other class officers, created opportunities for us to convene socially on Zoom during the pandemic, around topics of interest about every month on Sunday early evenings. Somewhere along there, I got sucked into the programming committee for the reunion, where I assisted minimally in scheduling, led by our impressive chair, David Huebner.
And then there was the lure of seeing old friends and spending time with them and seeing the campus and how it had changed over the past 40 years. So I screwed my courage up and bought my plane ticket, scored some swag, and packed a suitcase. I planned to stay with my friend Bob in his newly staged apartment in Chelsea . We kept a light footprint there, leaving it in pristine shape for the realtor to show. I joked that it was like being the little people in Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. But I got really good at throwing the bed shawl in such a way that it invoked casual coziness. I have quite a flair for casual coziness.
We drove down Friday morning, intending to attend a lecture on the universe by one of our erudite classmates, but Siri’s poor directions and traffic pushed our arrival to 11:00 rather than 10:00. Eschewing parking near campus, we instead drove to Windsor to Princeton Junction, where we took the “dinky” or local train to campus.
We arrived, checked in and scurried off to find our reunion headquarters tent, in Butler College (there was no such thing 40 years ago. First of many disorientations).
It didn’t take long to find dear friends with whom to reminisce about the good old days…. All in our goofy jackets.
Friday afternoon, we left after a panel on Lived Experiences of Navigating Bias, which was powerful and interrupted only by lightning and thunder warnings which were texted to us advising “Don’t stay under tents or trees.” Just for the record, there is nothing but tents and trees at reunions.
Bob and I scurried away to the dinky to get back to the car to drive to the city. We had a date to meet Bob’s friend Rick for dinner and a performance of Cyrano at BAM. The skies sobbed at our departure and Bob navigated through car-wash-like conditions, then bumper to bumper traffic on the BQE (I guess those of you in the east coast may know that reference but for west coast aficionados, that is the Brooklyn Queens Expressway). Driving conditions were treacherous, combined with stress over our diminishing timetable made it a nail biter. However, we arrived with 15 minutes to eat (Rick was kind enough to order some pizzas and not berate us for our delinquency) and still chewing, we emerged from the restaurant, only about 100 feet from the door to the Harvey Theatre. The show was stunning – James McAvoy as Cyrano with rat-a-tat verse reimagined by Martin Crimp, performed with the Jamie Lloyd London company. I felt so fortunate to get to see it. Back to the apartment, where we joined our friend Caroline for a brief slumber party before departing to return to the campus on Saturday morning bright and early for the class photo and the P-rade: (an hours long parade through the campus of Princeton Alumni, beginning with the Old Guard, the oldest of which was 107! and progressing to the class of 2022.
Saturday it was about 95 degrees, and the grounds were indeed sodden from Friday’s downpour. The tent rather than by beer was soggy, and the P-rade was more physically taxing than I’d like to admit. But we did have fun, and smack dab in the center of campus, which was much more recognizable. More encounters with old friends, it was less intimidating than I had worked myself up to believe it would be. I decided as I stood or sat at meals with about the fifteen to twenty people I had known well that that was an appropriate microcosm of my Princeton experience. I’d gone there with about 26 of my boarding school classmates, but upon arrival there, had gravitated toward the more bohemian side of Princeton University, Arts, Theatre, Terrace Club (the vegetarian option) where I met more politically left students. My friends and I tended to amuse ourselves by wrapping arches and sculptures (à la Christo). 40 years ago, in addition to studying hard, I drank hard, I’m sorry to say, which may have contributed to my poor memory of faces and facts. So to find the few folks I remembered at this 40th reunion was satisfying while now 36 years sober. In fairness to my long cast aspersions on reunions, I’m happy to say that there seemed to be very few drunk old people in our tent. Those folks I did remember I enjoyed reconnecting with.
The P-rade was festive. A lot of people really get into this reunions thang.
After the P-rade, it felt like all the blood had pooled in my ankles and I’d been walking for about 10 hours, but we braved standing through the affinity cocktail hour; my only assignment was to ensure there was a mic for the guest speaker. Guess what? There wasn’t any sound system in that side tent, so my one assignment was a bust. But fortunately, the Associate Provost of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Shawn Maxam, had a good strong voice and lots of powerful things to say about Diversity at Princeton, including that they have a staff of fourteen making sure it’s progressing. The cocktail party was well attended and furthered the theme of Epic Belonging. What we heard from the Associate Provost of Diversity was impressive and left us all feeling that the University had come a long way from what we’d heard from the panel the day before about their lived experiences of institutional bias from 1978-1982.
All in all, the reunions were great fun. Many people commented on the fact that the 40th was easier than the earlier ones, where people spent more time talking about careers and their rockstar children. Now we all seemed to be avidly interested in “Who are you now? And how do you plan to improve the world in this next chapter of your life?” No pressure or anything. I may have another few in me.