Until I came to work at Princeton, I had never attended Reunions: As a graduate student my goal was to flee the campus at the end of the year before the crowds wearing those crazy outfits descended. Now I have attended 15 P-rades, marching in some, taking notes on the sidelines at others, often wearing one of those crazy outfits myself.
The best thing I’ve read about Reunions is an essay by novelist Anne Rivers Siddons, “Reunions Make Me Cry: The Princetonization of an Alumni Wife,” which first appeared in a 1975 collection of the author’s essays and was reprinted in PAW. You can read it here.
Siddons had come to campus for the 25th reunion of her husband, Heyward Siddons ’48. It was 1973, and the writer — a graduate of a large, Southern university — acknowledges that she was there “primarily to giggle”: at the men prepared to dress up and march as if they were in the Elks, at the recollection of the letter that was addressed “Dear ’48 Wife” and encouraged her to “really please your old man” by buying him a class blazer, at her husband’s grousing about the female students on campus.
But she watched the P-rade go by, as most wives did in those days, and it made her cry. Especially the Old Guard: “We had seen them during the week, in the Tavern or ambling about campus, natty in their bright uniforms, but so frail, so tentative, some leaning on menservants, some with gentle, bewildered old wives on their arms. ... [S]ome were waving jauntily to the crowd from an open limousine. But others, by God, walked every step of the way, swinging along erect and vibrant, with perhaps only the common cord of Princeton sustaining them. And one, Class of ’15, rode a unicycle … Roars of pure love swelled to meet them …”
The P-rade today is about twice as long as when Siddons first attended. It’s boozier. Spouses, partners, and kids now march. But silver-cane recipient Joe Schein, Class of 1937, still walks. There’s still a unicyclist (thanks, Jay Lehr ’57). And after 15 P-rades, the Old Guard still makes me cry.