If anyone wondered about the lengths to which a Princeton alum would go to attend the 25th reunion, consider Jeff Rosalsky ’85 and his 15-year-old daughter, Alexa. The two traveled 120 miles from their home in Dingmans Ferry, Pa., to Princeton — surely not the greatest distance, but probably the greatest calorie-burner: They made the trip by kayak (Rosalsky’s was orange), paddling side by side along the Delaware River and arriving — tired but unscathed — Thursday afternoon at the Princeton boathouse, where they were greeted by Rosalsky’s wife, Gail Shuttleworth ’86, and two sons.
Father and daughter had logged weekend practice trips throughout the spring to prepare for their five-day journey. Inside their kayaks were sleeping bags, a tent, a stove, food, and plenty of sunblock. They started paddling by 8:30 each morning and spent about eight hours each day on the water, camping or staying in bed-and-breakfasts along the way.
Rosalsky wanted to be the first person ever to arrive to Reunions by kayak (the Alumni Association couldn’t confirm that), give his daughter an adventure, and teach a lesson to his children: “I wanted to inspire in her, and my other children, the limitless potential of a good idea, some planning, and a lot of hard work,” Rosalsky told PAW.
No matter how they arrived, the approximately 22,600 alumni, family members, and friends at Reunions had plenty of opportunities to catch up, enjoy meals and parties, and chew on current issues. About 2,500 people attended panel discussions on Friday and Saturday on topics ranging from civil liberties in the Obama administration to journalism in the age of new media. Among the most popular panels were those on hot topics such as health-care reform, the changing global role of the United States, the financial crisis, and politics. At a panel sponsored by the Alumni and Friends of Princeton ROTC, alumni who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Brig. Gen. Mark Milley ’80 and retired Capt. John Melkon II ’90, shared personal experiences and challenges they faced in combat; some 25 to 30 veterans were in the audience, along with several active-duty soldiers. Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer ’81 drew a standing-room-only crowd in his new role — as a commentator on national affairs — and outlined lessons from the economic crisis and steps the government should take. Afterward, Spitzer lingered to meet people and pose for photos.
From rock climbing and fun runs to arch sings and community-service projects, Reunion-goers had a host of activities to choose from. The Princeton University Players performed Clark Gesner ’60’s musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, and a small exhibition celebrating Gesner’s work was on display at Firestone Library. Alumni artists exhibited their work at the Carl A. Fields Center, and the Princeton Shakespeare Company performed The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) in the East Pyne Courtyard. Among the activities for children was a scavenger hunt at the Art Museum, in which children searched for specific works of art. In the Class of 1995’s Top Gun-themed reunion tent, children in “Officer Training School” played parachute games and made and raced paper planes.
In McCormick Hall Friday morning, former students of engineering professor David P. Billington ’50 honored him at a symposium in recognition of his retirement after 50 years at Princeton. The next day a plaque in memory of Ernest Gordon, the beloved dean of the Chapel from 1951 to 1981 — a period that included some of the most tumultuous years in Princeton’s history — was dedicated in the University Chapel. Robert George, professor of jurisprudence and politics, was the guest speaker at the third annual Pro-Life, Pro-Family Alumni Reunion gathering Friday evening; he urged students to continue to educate others and work for the creation of a campus center for chastity and abstinence.
As always, the P-rade provided a good show with lively marching bands, pipes and drums, and a sea of colorful costumes, including the Class of 1990’s Rio-themed big feather headdresses and the Class of 1970’s Seventypede. The Class of 1960’s Asian-themed procession featured a float with musicians playing booming Japanese drums. Signs carried in the P-rade noted how times have changed since graduation, cleverly lamented the aging process, or drew attention to the things that distinguished each class from the rest: “We graduated in 10 different years,” read a 1945 sign (because of World War II, many students left for service and returned later), while a sign in the Class of 2000 noted that 2000 was “the last Princeton class to have student loans.” The Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni — with a musical Reunions theme — said: “Our Reunions are always major.” Marching in the P-rade and watching all the classes process, said Bruce Schirmer ’75, “You realize you’ve been a part of something special.” (To read an article about the successful University effort to speed up the P-rade, see page 43.)
To reduce the amount of trash left strewn along the P-rade route, a team of students weaved in and out of the P-rade carrying signs encouraging alumni to recycle. At the 25th- and fifth-reunion tents, team members stood at the tent exits at night taking Reuners’ cups.
At a luncheon in Forbes College, the Class of 1944 was welcomed as the newest member of the Old Guard. Malcolm Warnock ’25 stole the limelight, however, becoming the first person to return for an 85th reunion. President Tilghman awarded him the silver-topped Class of 1923 cane, presented to the oldest returning alumnus, for the sixth time. Warnock, who would turn 105 June 21, is believed to be Princeton’s oldest living alumnus.
Despite the myriad of activities, alumni seemed to revel most in the chance to catch up with old friends, rekindle traditions and memories, and pass them along. Before stepping out in the P-rade, former roommates Schirmer, Craig Rosen ’75, and Joe Gardeski ’75 reminisced about stealing the clapper in their freshman year. The Class of 1960 mounted a plaque on Nassau Hall, planted ivy underneath it, and buried pennies — graduation rituals that their class never carried out 50 years ago.
Hannah Clayson Smith ’95, the chairwoman of the Class of 1995’s 15th reunion, met her husband, John Smith ’95, as an undergraduate — and wanted to show their three children “where it all began,” she said. Mark Berggren ’85 also planned to share his Princeton experience with his two children, and so he booked a flight from the family’s home in Singapore to Newark, via a stop in Detroit. When the Detroit-to-Newark leg was canceled, Berggren rented a car and drove 12 hours through the night with his two children, arriving, sans luggage, in time for an alumni football game early Friday afternoon. “My kids loved the visit,” he said later, “and I’m sure they’ll never forget their dad’s mad passion for ole Nassau.”
And kayaker Rosalsky? Even if his arrival at Princeton sparks a new Princeton tradition, his departure did not: The family went home in a car.