By Charles Robbins ’85
En route to our class memorial service on the second day of Reunions, a classmate, who now leads a field of specialized medicine, paused at Nassau Hall. She pivoted, crouched beside her young daughter, and boasted, “That’s where we stole the clapper.”
The young girl looked up dutifully, but her expression remained blank.
Many of the Class of 1985 seemed to return for our 25th, as perhaps most Princetonians return for Reunions, to channel the best years of our lives: times of youth, beauty and vigor as we entered our physical primes, and before we developed any notions of mortality; times of limitless promise as we advanced through arguably our nation’s greatest university.
Our class reunion team did not disappoint, nor did the University. Our 25th was a magnificent, exquisite affair, replete with event-filled days, nightly feasts, and logistics squared away with military precision – all building to a crescendo of leading the P-Rade, drawing locomotives from generations of fellow Tigers.
But the pervasive mood was all wrong. Or all right, depending on one’s view. Gray hair and shifting hairlines and waistlines abounded. Classmates worked BlackBerrys under picnic tables. Some arrived late to events, or not at all, as their toddlers and adolescents lingered at trampolines and lacrosse fields. We no longer preened and strutted, trying to compete and impress, as we had at our fifth and 10th reunions. Mostly, we seemed at peace with what we had become, with our varying degrees of promise fulfilled.
After the memorial service, a once-chipper cheerleader embraced me, but soon choked up, explaining that her own mother recently had died. I tried to offer solace; both my parents had died within the past few years. We parted through mist.
At our Friday class dinner, President Tilghman told us – asking us to withhold boos until she had finished her thought – that with our 25th reunion, we were no longer a young alumni class. We were now, she said, a leadership class.
Some of us resisted. The next morning, a friend now an orthopedic surgeon put me in a hammerlock, perhaps trying to rekindle old times, but only aggravating a shoulder sprain. Several of us toured our old eating club, only to find the place expanded to twice the size, with a frayed carpet and worn club chairs the only vestiges of where we had – literally – made our marks.
Even the dorms failed to rekindle that old college feeling. Waking to make what recently has become a routine 3:30 or 4 a.m. bathroom run proved more cumbersome with a men’s room one flight and two corridors away.
At the P-rade reviewing stand, the announcer rattled off statistics and lore about each class as it passed. As the 1940s alumni arrived, he noted how the war had disrupted studies and forced the school to accommodate battalions of departing and returning combat vets. I studied these alums’ aging faces, they who had lost their youth to war, and whose Princeton experiences had never included hijinks and notions of immortality. And I packed my car and drove home, a day earlier than I had planned. It was a wonderful reunion, but just too much.
By Justin T. Klosek ’95
I had a rock band in college. Brass Tacks was 10 pieces: guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals, plus two trumpets, a trombone, and alto and baritone saxophones. Somehow we dragged ourselves to Woolworth on Saturday mornings to rehearse. It was the only time we were all available.
There weren’t many student-led bands that played regularly on campus in my undergraduate days. I wasn’t completely surprised when I received an e-mail asking if I wanted to perform under the tent at my 15th reunion. Having an “in” with our reunion entertainment chair, Clancy Rowley ’95, didn’t hurt either: He played bass in Brass Tacks.
Seventeen years ago, assembling the band on campus was a fairly casual affair. We ran into each other at class, at meals, or just walking around. Eventually, we all met in a classroom somewhere, played a few charts, liked what we heard, and went from there.
Putting the band back together was, well, more planned. We had a few rounds of e-mail to finally set a time to talk. I rang Andy Stack ’95 at his California office while walking through the Boston Public Garden. The idea germinated quickly: We’d play an hour each on Friday and Saturday nights as the opening act under the tent in Wilson. Only ’95s would be in the band, and we’d base the sets around shows I’d been doing in Boston.
I recruited Tim O’Reilly ’95 to play guitar, and Andy signed up Jon Nichols ’95 to sing. Great – but Tim was in Manhattan, and Jon was in Quito, Ecuador. Without on-campus proximity, how could we rehearse? No problem, said Andy, we’ll use Skype!
Skype was a good start, but a band needs to interact. We met Friday afternoon of Reunions in Woolworth 105. The building layout had changed – we could not find the room! – but the climate control was the same (hot and humid). The groupies had changed, too: Where we used to get ’96s and ’97s, we had (20)27s: Pete DeRosa ’95’s daughter listened until she could take no more runs of the theme from Top Gun. Andy and Tim had not changed. They were still the same great players I remembered, and the music gelled quickly in the sauna of Woolworth 105.
There was an amazing, unexpected result from the work we put into the Reunions show. Tim, Andy, and I had played music together since early freshman year; we met Jon shortly thereafter. I had always respected and liked these guys as musicians. Now, through Skype, e-mail, and time spent getting ready, I got to know them better, and found that I really liked them as people, too. Much conversation was fragmented – I learned that Andy had twin daughters (!) as he soundchecked his snare drum – but we did connect as people. This is the magic of Reunions: We see old friends in a new light.
The show in Wilson went pretty well. The video recording captures some less-than-stellar moments, but for me my right arm had been reattached after 15 years. Andy and Tim were right in front of me, cooking away as they always had. Our friends were on the floor, singing along and dancing with the music. We were back and plugged in!
But a gig can be a gig, even at Reunions. As I climbed off stage, a young undergraduate sought me out. I saw him dancing and singing with the rest of the crowd just two minutes earlier, yet he wished to complain about the Journey song we’d performed. Whatever … we’ll be back for our 20th!
By Mickey Friedman k’80
At first, I did not want to go to Princeton Reunions. Because of final exams, the time was very inconvenient for me, and overall I felt the whole event to be rather dull. After all, as a mere 13-year-old girl, it was not my first priority to walk down the P-rade when I could be playing video games – or studying. Not to say that I didn’t like Princeton; I had very vague but fun recollections of it from when I was little. I just thought that I had better things to do.
I was going to express my reasoning to mom, a true and faithful Princetonian who lately seemed to be smiling much more than usual. She already was making plans to meet with her fellow alumni, and I was frightened to burst her bubble. She really was hoping to go to her 30th reunion with the whole family, which, unfortunately, included me. So I decided to keep my mouth shut and to accompany her, defeated by guilt. Anyway, how bad could it be? She was there for me every time I had a school event or party. What was the harm of attending a little reunion for her once every five years?
So I reluctantly packed my bags, with my phone and math packets to keep me occupied while we were there.
Packing was very easy, but picking out a suitable outfit for the day was not. Besides one ill-fitting orange T-shirt, I had nothing to wear. I was aware of the fact that Princeton’s colors were orange and black, but I had my heart set on wearing my brand-new purple skirt.
“No, Mickey,” Mom told me as she snatched back the skirt. She gave me my baggy orange T-shirt in return. “Trust me: Nobody will be wearing purple.”
I stared at the ill-fitting bright orange shirt with contempt. What if someone were to see me? The cutting of the shirt was pedestrian, and I gazed with longing eyes at my beautiful skirt that was sadly hanging in the closet.
“What if I’m the only one wearing orange? This shirt is way too orange!” At this, my mother just laughed.
I remained grumpy throughout the car ride, and sat in the backseat with a pout on my face and my arms crossed. My brother, who is two years younger than me, was playing games on his Nintendo DS, and actually seemed to be looking forward to the Princeton road trip. “Hoagie Haven” was his mantra – it doesn’t take much more than a good cheese steak to make him happy.
Finally we arrived at Campus Club, where miraculously, a parking spot waited for us with open arms. By this time I was extremely carsick, and the thought of eating anything was revolting. However, despite my complaints, my parents decided to go to the Student Center in search of a bite to eat.
A sea of people in gaudy orange-and-black blazers swarmed around us like bees on Halloween, smiling and greeting us as we made our way through the student center. Surely mom couldn’t have been acquainted with all of them – there had to have been a hundred people there! Yet they all acted as if they knew each other.
“D’you know all these people?” I asked.
“No,” she responded lightheartedly.
This puzzled me because I was always told not to talk to strangers. Mom must’ve picked up on my confusion, because she started to explain the reason for everybody’s warmth.
“Princeton is a very special place for me and Princetonians of all ages. We all share this special bond. It’s hard to explain, but I still remember being on a boat with my friends after graduation, and for whatever reason, we started singing ‘Old Nassau,’ our school song. Toward the end of the song, an elderly man came up to us with tears in his eyes, and thanked us for singing his favorite song of all time. So my friends and I sang ‘Old Nassau’ again, but this time with him. Despite the age difference, my friends and I felt very connected to this perfect stranger all because of a song – because of a place and a shared happy memory. Does any of this make sense to you?”
I tried to grasp the undoubtedly deep meaning of all this, but I guess I’m just not that deep. To this, mom sighed and said that it was time to go to the P-rade.
“P-rade.” Every time someone said “P-rade,” I assumed that they were saying “parade” with a weird accent. It finally dawned on me what the “P” in “P-rade” stood for, which I guess was Princetonian humor.
At first, I had very conflicting feelings about the P-rade. On the one hand, we had to wait for maybe two hours just so that we could march down with the Class of 1980. On the other hand, there was something very touching about the whole process. Perhaps it was the charm of the Old Guard – their determination to contribute to the very special day despite their circumstances. Or perhaps it was the great respect that everybody had for one another. Whatever it was, the Princetonians seemed to communicate with one another through clapping, cheering, and a series of crazy chants. And at the end, even I, who resolved to text my friends throughout the remainder of the day, was moved. In fact, I even caught myself screaming “sis-sis-sis-boom-boom-boom-bah!” with the rest of my mom’s friends. And when John Nash [*50] walked by, I have to admit a certain kind of reverence washed over me. I had just seen the movie, A Beautiful Mind, and it was awe-inspiring to see a genius like him up close.
It was at that moment that I realized that, not only did I envy my mom for having had the privilege of going to Princeton University, but I also began to see her in a new and different way. For all my life, my mother was to me first and foremost a great mom. I knew that she was a talented pianist, but on this particular sunny and hot afternoon, she was first and foremost a Princetonian. On this day of her 30th reunion, my mom was a bright, clever, and talented Princetonian reminiscing with her equally bright, clever, and talented fellow alumni.
It was at this point in time that my view of Princeton changed, along with my mood. I finally got it – the song, the teary-eyed old man on the boat, the orange and black – so much orange and black! I began to see it all, through my mom’s smiling eyes.
It was getting late, and we had to go back to the city so that I could study for my first-ever final exams. As we walked back to the car, I was getting cold, and I asked my mom if I could wear her Princeton blazer, the orange-and-black jacket that had every one of the Class of 1980’s names printed on the lining. She handed it to me, and I put it on. Yes, the jacket was ill-fitting, but that didn’t matter to me to me anymore. Maybe one day, if I work hard and am lucky enough, I will grow into a blazer of my very own.
Mickey Friedman is the daughter of Donna Weng Friedman ’80, who celebrated her 30th reunion this year.