I haven’t experienced my Good Old Days yet.
— Luther Vandross
The Class of 1971 has always been near and dear to my heart; as their immediate seniors, the Great Class of 1970 was able to bypass the affection we felt for our impressionable keyceptees in the Class of ’72 and heap upon ’71 plenteous derision for being less athletic, worse trained, less good-looking – you know, the endearing qualities that sophomores always see in the freshman class. It is useful to note that the same most certainly was felt by the Class of 1770 for that slaggard bunch in the Class of 1771, which of course included a future U.S. president, writers of the U.S. Constitution, the poet of the American Revolution and the country’s first “Western” novelist, a batch of federal and state judges, and various influential clergymen (in a class that totaled 13 souls). Thus it has been, thus it will be, thus endeth the lesson.
But ’71 does know how to party (not inconsistent, if you paid attention to Animal House). At last year’s 40th reunion, the class that previously brought back Smokey Robinson and Darlene Love for Reunions – along with its partner in revelry, the Class of ’61, previous Reunions enabler of the Marvellettes, the Coasters, and Chubby Checker – caught lightning in a bottle by inveigling the Beach Boys (well, the pre-Brian Wilson/Al Jardine reincarnation, but still …) to campus to warm up for their tour beginning the following week. It was a blast; given the group’s long period of travails, deaths, and internal squabblings, getting the group to appear under a reunion tent was a remarkable feat, and fun to watch. In an astonishing act, the offspring of ’71 momentarily thought their parents were way cooler than (I can guarantee you) they really are.
Yes indeed, it has been 50 years since Wilson and his dysfunctional family released their first album (father Murry already messing things up backstage), and it really takes a moment to realize how emotionally long ago that truly was. Sure, John Kennedy was president, and it was the age of Mad Men (the entrancing soap opera-cum-sociology flashback), but for full effect consider that not only had humankind not yet landed on the moon, but CBS had exactly zero color television shows on the air. A long time ago: The Beatles’ drummer was Pete Best.
It was very different on campus then, too, but many things sound oddly the same. A perusal of The Prince from the spring of ’62 shows such crises as the intrusion of modern architecture on campus, debate over increased recruitment of minority students, graduate housing insufficiencies, the successful conclusion of a major capital campaign, new cross-departmental programs, a fascinating debate between guests Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and William F. Buckley, the design for the seniors’ beer jacket, a new basketball coach (in this instance Butch van Breda Kolff ’45), Houseparties, parietals (well, OK, some things have gone the way of the dodo), a new dean of admission, WPRB moving from 103.5 MHz to 103.3, and the dedication of the John Foster Dulles 1908 Library.
The Class of 1962 will be recalling these and many far more personal moments when a large proportion – about half of its 625 living members (763 entered with the class in 1958) – arrive for their 50th reunion beginning May 31. In olden days, the 50th was the jumping-off point before joining the Old Guard; nowadays cigarette warnings, Yuengling, and whatever they’re up to over in the genomics building have conspired to raise the antiquarian ante all the way from the 51st to the 66th. These guys – there won’t be women classmates at the 50th for another eight years – may be over 70, but they’re hearty and ready to celebrate with tours of the Princeton Battlefield and the Art Museum, the P-rade, parties at night and many celebratory moments with President Tilghman, the Nassoons, the Tigertones, some nice wine, and Sunday brunch at (my favorite) the Boat House. All in all, a fine and well-deserved blowout, albeit in the full knowledge that never, ever, will this many classmates gather again. Many of the ’62 contingent will be back at Princeton for the first time in many years; a smattering for the first time since Commencement; some for their last time. It does make you think.
It’s in that context that I advise alums who have been away for a while, whenever they ask, to do anything they can to warm up with an off-year reunion, probably the least-appreciated, most-joyful experience in any collegiate setting in America. At other schools, if you’re not from a major reunion class, there’s literally no space for you, if indeed they don’t toss you out on your ear (it’s actually happened to me elsewhere). In Tigertown, if you wander in for your 23rd or your ninth, there are a dozen places of comfort and bountiful stripes to sit and sip (in the immortal words of John Blutarski, “Grab a brew, don’t cost nothin’ ”) and appreciate the fortitude and angst of the majors. Two years ago, some cronies from ’71 were around, but I had no chance to talk to them because my class had our whole 40th weekend scheduled with great stuff. Last year, I couldn’t talk to them because they were all running around campus with their beach blankets for all their major goings-on. So this year, a small assortment of us can put our feet up unhurried, and we from ’70 can calmly and lovingly recount for ’71 what a fine bunch of screw-ups they were, are, and always will be. You know: cultural enrichment. We’ll let the little kids from ’72 pay for everything, guard the fences, try to find ice at 1 a.m., count golf carts, and dress up for the administration, while dozens of them secretly count the days until next year, when they can relax and sponge off ’73. Looking at this in writing, it sounds a bit like a Ponzi scheme, and in some ways I guess it is, but at least you get four years “off” compared to one year of formal whoop-de-do, and those are pretty fair odds, if you and your friends just avail yourselves of them.
So if you haven’t been back to the Original Campus in a while, and your class numerals don’t end in 2 or 7, why not call up one Princeton friend, and both of you meander back sometime between Thursday, May 31, and Sunday, June 3, amble through Prospect Garden, hit an alumni-faculty forum of your interest, and give me a wave as you wander through the 40th site. If you want to stop for a bit, drink some of ’72’s beer, and make fun of ’71, in an off-year there’s plenty of time. And if Reunions tell us anything at all, they tell us how indescribably precious that time is.