Alumni might come back for Reunions to be transported to their college days, but this year, the political moment proved inescapable. About 26,000 alumni and guests partook in Reunions June 1–4, and amid the usual revelry were panels and serious talks about pressing political issues. Even in the sea of orange called the P-rade — with its Mummers, beer-drinking, and dogs masquerading as tigers — there were many displays of political activism.
As usual, Reunions events spanned a wide range of topics, including work-life balance, health care, entrepreneurship, China, and sports. Some found unique ways to blend Princeton’s educational mission with Reunions’ tradition of imbibing. The Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni offered “Full Flavored Science: A Talk and Tasting on Wine and Cheese Production,” while “Beers with PIIRS” nurtured understanding of global affairs through beers from around the world. The full schedule of panels and talks ranged from the future — where new developments in space exploration may lead — to the past, as a pair of sessions sponsored by the Class of 1957 looked back on changes to student life and the physical campus over the last 60 years (72 buildings have been added).
National politics often was on full view. Many panels this year focused on political topics (see page 38). Some alums marched in the P-rade wearing the pink “pussy hats” popularized during women’s marches protesting the agenda of President Trump. Princeton Progressives, a group of alumni that supports progressive student activity, brought the pink hats for alumni to wear. Other alums wore a special black-and-orange version of the hat. The TiGrrrHat Project sprang from a grassroots effort led by Sue Gemmell ’82 and Alison Holtzschue ’82; the pair envisioned a river of black-and-orange hats bobbing through campus. “Every time you saw someone in a pink hat [at the women’s marches] you felt this solidarity, and that’s the same wonderful, uplifting feeling you get at Reunions,” said Holtzschue, who helped coordinate volunteers who sold and distributed almost 700 of the lightweight caps at Reunions and through their website. Donations collected will go to a campus student group not yet determined.
Russ Hensel ’67’s wife, Karen Quigley, was one of many who marched with a political sign; hers said: “March for Truth.” “The truth is not supposed to be partisan,” Hensel said as they lined up. “RESIST” screamed one side of a sandwich board worn by a ’71 alum; “Save Our Democracy” read the other. A few pro-Trump signs were also sprinkled throughout the crowd.
A key figure from the 2016 election was on hand. Sen. Ted Cruz ’92, wearing his new 25th-reunion blazer, posed for photos with admirers, critics, and the Princeton Tiger. On Friday, Cruz and his former debating partner and roommate, David Panton ’92, took on Cydney Kim ’17 and Nathan Raab ’17 on the lighthearted question of whether it was better to be Princeton alum or a Princeton student.
Cruz spoke first, making a case for post-college life: “Seniors: You better hope we’re right.” He made sport of 2-foot-tall refrigerators, sheets “with a thread-count of 13,” and the poor quality of beer in college. But Raab powerfully retorted that in college, beer quality is secondary to beer quantity. Panton and Cruz, who outlasted 14 GOP hopefuls in last year’s presidential primary contest against Donald Trump, couldn’t beat Princeton’s student team.
The energy of the weekend seemed even more pronounced than usual. Silver-cane winner Joseph Schein ’37, who is 102 years old, walked the entire P-rade route. Jay Lehr ’57 led his class, as he always does, on his unicycle. P-raders boogied their way onto Elm Drive. For the first time, a student DJ stationed at the top of Elm Drive played hits from the era of each class. Gloria Umutoni ’18’s playlist moved through the decades: from Fred Astaire’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” (1930s), through Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” (1960s) and Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” (1980s), and ending with the music of the youngest alums: Bruno Mars’ “24k Magic” and Beyonce’s “6 Inch.”
Headliners drew overflow crowds. On Saturday night, the 30th-reunion in Butler courtyard attracted a frenzied audience to see Duran Duran, one of the biggest pop bands of the 1980s. For more than an hour, at high decibels and with strobe lights flashing rhythmically, the band raced through some of its biggest hits of the Reagan/Bush era: “Hungry Like the Wolf,” “Girls on Film,” and “Rio” — transporting members of the Class of 1987 back to their youth and showing a large group of graduating seniors how Mom and Dad used to get down. Grammy-winning hip-hop trio Naughty by Nature performed at the 25th–reunion headquarters.
The big draw of the weekend was not famous musicians, but seeing classmates. For former residents of third-floor Blair, a star was Alex Suh ’92, attending Reunions for the first time. “A unicorn is someone at Reunions who you keep hearing is here, but you haven’t seen,” said June Wu ’92. “Alex was all of our unicorn!” Suh described the experience of being back as “a little bit like The Twilight Zone.”And two of the most-photographed people at Reunions were not famous politicians or musicians: They were newlyweds Merry Lee and Don Berglund, Class of 1947. The couple carried a sign in the P-rade that announced: “Just Married! April 1st, 2017.” They were introduced by friends from their retirement community in Cupertino, Calif., about a year and half ago.
“Everyone just burst into laughter and pointed when they saw the sign,” said Merry Lee. “And I think hundreds of people took our picture.”
“I was offered probably at least two dozen cans of beer along the way,” Don added.