Reunions can be overwhelming. Between class events, alumni forums, faculty lectures, theater performances, arch sings, and just walking around our campus (more beautiful than I remember) while navigating around golf carts, there is so much to pack in, so much one inevitably will miss.
After 25 years, I finally made the connection between this challenge of abundance and that of my four years at Princeton — during which I chose my major by marking in our catalog (in those days, a thick printed book) the name and description of every course I couldn’t bear to graduate without taking. I selected the department whose catalog pages contained the most markings, by far. (This was more of a validation than a surprise, but I found reassurance in mathematically calculating my path as an English major.)
The first time I found myself goin’ back, goin’ back, goin’ back to Nassau Hall — one year after graduation — I was surprised by my reaction to the familiar places. Though each of my four years in college had centered on a specific location on campus, upon my return, my nostalgia did not discriminate. Time flattened. I was equally connected to the courtyard of my first two years and to my senior-year dorm. Past events were restored to me simply by walking Princeton’s slate paths.
Reaching my 25th has had a similar effect — that of a broad mirror offering up a quarter-century on a single platter for recollection. How has it gone, what have we learned, and what’s next?
My classmate Bradford B. Abernethy discussed in our 25th-year class book how he is now — finally — starting to write the book he always had wanted to write, on the topic he first began to consider in his senior thesis. At Reunions, a sophomore assigned to our headquarters read his essay, tracked him down, and told him how cool that was. Another classmate wrote of how she has matured over the years, becoming “less naïve” and “more grateful.” Many presented accountings of their time — some spent on career achievements, some on family and personal experiences. One submitted an actual timeline, including a few years of lesser significance left blank.
Why do we return? Elizabeth Short wanted to see close friends as well as those with whom she had little contact, and classmates she didn’t know at all. Marc Diamond wanted to learn “what others have done with their lives.” A philosophical classmate returned “for perspective on my life and to exchange stories and reflections about it all with other Princetonians — intelligent people who are also curious and ambitious and living full lives. Each time, I note how much I’ve changed and how my life choices and experiences have shaped me.”
One classmate opened Reunions conversations with this optimistic question: “Life is good?” For many, it is. We’ve been lucky — for whatever got us to and through one of the best and rarest educational experiences on the planet, and for the ability to gather together 25 years later. And yet most, if not all of us, also have been unlucky. In our mid-40s, we have lost jobs, careers, friends, parents, siblings, spouses, marriages — and in a few cases, children. “We all know friends who have been waylaid by one blow or another. It could have just as easily been us,” said Joshua Litwin. “Maybe the best thing I got out of our 25th reunion was learning from another classmate that one of my former roommates — a fun, funny, brilliant athlete who has traveled a hard road since college — was doing OK.”
Some have encountered obstacles blocking the path between them and their heart’s desire. While some classmates chose not to join us at Reunions, to those who came and told their stories, I would like to say, “Thank you. Your honesty and courage make us all braver.”
After the intense self-appraisal and high expectations this occasion precipitated, I approached my 25th reunion with some trepidation: How would I — and it — measure up? What I found was extraordinary warmth and pleasure. Some classmates look exactly the same as they did in college; some filled out, some trimmed down. But we’re here.
And that, it turns out, is something to celebrate. My biggest surprise was the pride I felt walking around campus in my brand-new Class of 1987 jacket and marching in the P-rade — once with my own class, and once with my father, Class of 1963.
In the past, it had been the Old Guard and the locomotives that I most remembered from Reunions. This year I especially was touched by something else: the seniors, hand-slapping with us along the periphery, saying to each of us, face-to-face, “Welcome back,” as they waited to take their place in our line.
Kyra Auslander ’87, who edited her class-reunion book, is the corporate communications manager for a Chicago-based information-technology company. After hours, she writes songs and performs locally.