“Welcome to Reunions. Welcome to your P-rade. We are thrilled to have you back.”
That was the message from P-rade emcee Gary M. King ’79 to the approximately 26,000 alumni and guests who gathered for Reunions, which, after a two-year hiatus, was back in full swing May 19-22.
“It’s so nice after two years of all being in COVID, being at home, to come together,” said Anne Kenny-Urban ’87.
“It’s been two years since most of us have seen each other, so it’s just so powerful when you run into people who are a big part of your life,” said Bobo Stankovikj ’20.
Emotions ran high — and so did the thermometer. Despite a change this year that saw Reunions occur about two weeks earlier than usual, a Friday-afternoon thunderstorm drove crowds indoors, and the following day, the heat was stifling, the temperature hitting 93 degrees. “I had thought that this shift, which brings us closer to the middle of May, would’ve allowed us to escape the traditional Reunions weather … but apparently the weather has moved along with us,” quipped President Eisgruber ’83 in his traditional Saturday morning talk (see sidebar, page 53).
Grand Marshal Heather Butts ’94 kicked off the P-rade precisely at 2 p.m. She was soon followed by Eisgruber, Trustees chair Louise Sams ’79, Alumni Council chair Mary Newburn ’97, Reunions Committee chair Liz Irwin ’04, and Alexandra Day ’02, deputy vice president for alumni engagement. There was the Princeton University Band, whose members, as usual, banged and clacked on street signs and traffic markers in addition to playing a few more conventional instruments. Passing Whig and Clio, Eisgruber appeared to be boogying.
As he did for the previous five years, 107-year-old Joe Schein ’37 — Princeton’s oldest alumnus and now a six-time recipient of the Class of 1923 Cane — led the Old Guard, this time from a golf cart. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker ’52 led his class down the route, walking in front of the carts. Rick Hesel ’67 pedaled by on a recumbent bike. (The PAW staff did not spy any unicyclists this year.) They were followed by thousands of sweltering alumni who donned all things orange and black, including full-length tiger catsuits, party hats, and, in at least one case, a beer-guzzler helmet filled with water.
Reuners were adept at finding shade and took advantage of 25 giant “water monster” stations Princeton installed along the P-rade route. All members of the Old Guard had access to golf carts, the University said. Three thousand reusable “cooling towels” were distributed, and open tents with air conditioners were set up on Poe Field. Along with spouting the usual fun facts about the passing classes from behind the microphone, King repeated reminders to stay hydrated.
At least one man collapsed in the heat and was assisted by an emergency crew, but University officials could not say how many attendees needed assistance. “A couple of alumni had some problems with the heat, including a marshal, but nothing very serious,” said marshal Jean Hendry *80. One marshal was spotted without — gasp — her orange hat and carrying her navy jacket. Mummers eschewed their feathers.
COVID also loomed over the events. Many alumni expressed their concern that Reunions could become a superspreader event, and even the marshals were “somewhat short-staffed this year because some marshals had issues with COVID,” according to Hendry.
Gillian Ashenfelter ’99 wasn’t bothered. “Life is short,” she said. “I guess if COVID taught you anything, it’s like, seize the moment.”
Throughout the weekend, there were many opportunities for alumni to do just that. As in pre-COVID times, there was a full schedule of tent parties, luncheons, and alumni-faculty panels on topics ranging from the future of work to the mental-health crisis to investing in “interesting” times. The Class of 1987 celebrated disco in sparkling orange attire, while ’97 recreated the Central Perk café from the era’s beloved television show, Friends. (Dinky Drinky, anyone?) During a Friday “Recuerdos Digital Storytelling” session sponsored by the Association of Latino Princeton Alumni, Patricia Garcia-Monet Burk ’92 recounted a scary moment from 2017 when she was unexpectedly told to evacuate her Houston home before Hurricane Harvey. Her first priority? Saving her Princeton memorabilia and the orange-and-black section of her wardrobe. “It sort of told me who I was,” she said. “Princeton definitely changed my life.”
And at “Tales of P-rades Past,” Tom Tulenko ’67 shared Princeton traditions unlikely to be seen again, such as performing stunts in front of the reviewing stand, as well as the origins of more familiar sights. He explained that seniors started making their mad dash to the finish line long before the P-rade moved its terminus to Poe Field, and in fact archival films show the senior class sprinting through the old baseball stadium, where the E-Quad now stands, from right field to the third-base grandstands. “When they hit the wall in front of the bleachers, dust clouds come up, and they go over the wall,” Tulenko said.
But there were no dust clouds this year. Instead, seniors followed a University request not to run “for safety’s sake and to ensure that they are able to stop before the reviewing stand to be officially welcomed into the Alumni Association,” according to deputy spokesman Michael Hotchkiss. The Princeton University Band paused briefly before leading the seniors onto Poe Field. The seniors stopped to sing “Old Nassau” in front of the reviewing stand before dispersing.
Collin Eaddy ’22 was one of the last on Poe Field. “I think it’s kind of hit me, like, ‘Oh, it’s coming to a close.’ Walking down here, and being the last class, and watching everybody applaud us, it’s kind of a surreal moment,” he said.
He’s already looking forward to Reunions next year: “No place really does it like Princeton.”
Additional reporting by PAW staff and freelance writers