When class president Lew Miller ’49 learned that Reunions would be canceled last spring, his first thought was: Zoom. “I had never set up a Zoom myself, but I’d been on a number of calls,” says the 92-year-old, noting the importance of gathering as the number of living classmates has dipped below 90. “So I sent out a notice and said, ‘if you never used Zoom before, even old people can use it.’” Since then Miller has attracted a following of around 15 in the three gatherings he has hosted.
As the United States shifted to remote learning and working, Tigers were not only busy canceling flights, setting up home offices, and home-educating children; they were also quick to find ways to keep meaningful connections. Not surprisingly, their methods have been novel and diverse.
“Princetonians love to get together, and they’re endlessly creative about it in person,” says Erika Knudson, Princeton’s director of advancement communications. “But the realities of the pandemic have allowed them to become even more creative, if that’s possible.”
A list of official class and regional clubs’ online offerings compiled by the Office of Advancement runs longer than three single-spaced pages — and administrators believe there are plenty of informal events they’re not aware of.
Virtual wine tastings seem to be a big hit, an idea first planned by the Princeton Association of New England in early May. Their lead was followed by 15 other Princeton groups, from the PAA of Nantucket Island, to the Princeton Club of Northern California.
Other popular online programming includes book clubs, trivia nights, and of course, simple chats. In late February, the Class of 2018 leadership anticipated the coming onslaught of virtual meetings and devised an old-fashioned pen-pal initiative, in which 66 classmates have been randomly paired for written correspondence. “So far the program is going smoothly,” according to class president Victoria Adams ’18, who is exploring bringing in other class years for the program’s next iteration.
There have also been virtual receptions held by nine regional associations to welcome as alumni new 2020 grads, as well as an APGA toast for new graduate students.
Online gatherings have embraced educational opportunities, drawing on alumni and faculty expertise. In late October, four regional groups in Texas worked together to present a “Texas Tigers Event” called “Fiscal and Monetary Policy in a Pandemic” featuring Princeton economics and public affairs professor Alan Blinder ’67. Similar gatherings have been centered around alumni to share wisdom and take questions from their peers.
Knudson adds that the virtual programming has opened up alumni gatherings that were once bound by geographic proximity, offering people a chance to connect “in really significant ways.”
During one of Lew Miller’s calls, the ’49 Zoomers were joined by classmate Jack Smiley, a retired pastor who is in hospice. From his hospital bed at home, Smiley read Psalm 121, the last line of which reads:
The Lord will keep you from all harm — he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
“That was very touching,” says Miller. At their next meeting, Miller planned to discuss the places they all hope to travel post-pandemic. His destination? “I’d like to go to Seattle to see my grandson, his wife, and my two great-grandchildren, who are 3 and 1.”