The Class of 1962 was getting ready to make its way around Cannon Green about 2:45 p.m. on the Saturday of Reunions when P-rade marshals made the announcement no one was expecting: There had been a lightning strike a few miles from campus, and everyone should seek shelter in campus buildings immediately. The P-rade was canceled for the first time since 1953, when a nor’easter “drove more than 4,000 disgusted marchers to the shelter of flooded tents,” PAW reported then.
For 30 minutes after this year’s storm, much of the campus was in free-for-all mode. Some alumni waited it out in Richardson Auditorium, one of several locations where impromptu performances began. The Class of 1973 brought a boom box inside to play music; soon people climbed on stage and began singing and reciting poetry. Some classes raised their banners and attempted to keep marching on Elm Drive, with one member of the Class of 2006 chanting “Renegade P-rade!” Down the hill, some seniors and young alumni remained in celebration mode, floating in kiddie pools and playing games until a downpour with thunder began about 3:15 p.m., causing many of the last holdouts to seek shelter indoors.
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After the rain eased up, many members of the Class of 2018 gathered by the reviewing stand on Poe Field, where P-rade emcee Gregg Lange ’70 led them in singing “Old Nassau” and declared them alumni. Other alumni also gathered on Poe Field, which resulted in “an amazing impromptu showing of school spirit,” complete with a sing-along to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and many locomotives, said Dan Lopresti *87. President Eisgruber ’83 declared it “either the shortest P-rade on record — or the longest.”
The abbreviated P-rade contained a few notable changes and additions. For the first time in recent history, the Old Guard led the procession, with 103-year-old Joseph Schein ’37 holding the silver cane for the third year in a row as he marched the entire way down Elm Drive. Next in line was the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps band from New York City, which preceded the 25th-reunion Class of 1993 and elicited loud cheers and visible excitement from alumni — and especially from those in the LGBTQ community.
“I cannot imagine anything like this happening 25 years ago,” said Alex Volckhausen ’93 in an email. “I never felt exactly ‘oppressed’ as an LGBT student, but I didn’t feel comfortable coming out until midway through senior year ... [It] sends a message that Princeton is a place for everyone.”
Other Reunions events went on without a hitch for the almost 25,000 alumni and guests in attendance. Panel discussions on topics such as the value and volatility of cryptocurrency, the state of race relations in the U.S., and the future of the Supreme Court were big draws for many attendees (see story, page 42); while a “Princeton Ninja Warrior” obstacle course overseen by American Ninja Warrior host Matt Iseman ’93 was a hit with many of the youngest Tigers. New guided tours offered alumni views into less-known aspects of Princeton, including a history of protest and of African Americans on campus.
Service played a prominent role, with the classes of 1978, 1983, 2003, 2008, and 2013 collaborating on a two-day project to benefit five organizations in New Jersey and beyond. On Thursday, more than 50 alumni from those classes traveled to Newark to plant flowers, build shelves, and paint houses; on Friday, more than 200 people packed almost 24,000 meals for Kids Against Hunger at the Class of 1978 tent.
“[The Classes of] 1978 and 1983 both felt that we wanted to change the culture at Reunions,” said Jeanne Perantoni ’78, who helped organize the project. “We wanted the younger classes to be more conscious of giving back as part of this culture of Reunions, and we accomplished that goal. I hope that service plays a bigger and bigger role and that these younger classes run with it going forward.”
At the Saturday-morning gathering of the Asian American Alumni Association of Princeton, Hong Kong businessman and infrastructure builder Gordon Wu ’58, one of Princeton’s largest donors, received the association’s first award for distinguished Asian or Asian American alumni who bring life to Princeton’s informal motto of service. At the presentation, Eisgruber said Wu’s impact “has touched every aspect of our alma mater.”
For many alumni, reconnecting with family and friends was the highlight of the weekend. Sisters Ivy Thomas McKinney ’77, Daphne Thomas Jones ’77, and Evora Thomas ’74 traveled from different states to march together in the P-rade.
“It was nice [as a student] having sisters here because you had a built-in support network,” said McKinney. “It was very challenging for women, and especially for women of color.”
“But we had a sense of community that helped to sustain us, and we were very supportive of each other right down to making sure that everybody’s thesis got typed and submitted on time,” said Thomas. “We made sure that everybody made it.”
Walt Schanbacher ’73 was serving his eighth year as a P-rade marshal, along with his daughter, Jenny Marlowe ’04. “I always volunteer to [work with] the younger classes in the P-rade, which most of the other [marshals] don’t want to do,” Schanbacher said. “To me they’re what proves the constancy of the place — they’re the most fun, but they’re also so into it, and that’s nice to see.”
Laurie Blank ’93 was back for her 29th Reunions weekend, having not missed one since her freshman year. “[Reunions] is the exact same experience every year, and yet there’s always something different,” she said. “No matter how much they build and develop, Princeton stays the same. There are certain places in life that hold on and don’t let go, and for me, Princeton is one of those places.”