As you’re catching up with classmates and cheering on other alumni marching by during the P-rade, you may notice a familiar, melodic voice in the background regaling you with fascinating facts about each class and pertinent world trivia from each passing year.
That’s Gary King ’79.
Not only has King returned for every Reunions weekend since 1978, but for the past four years he has also undertaken the enormous — and exhilarating — job of P-rade narrator.
“In large part, it is a history lesson: a history of Reunions, a history of life,” says King, who speaks to audiences from a microphone on the podium at Poe Field — or, for two years during the pandemic, virtually — during the three-hour event. “And being able to sit there and watch all of the alumni pass by is a thrill.”
King’s enthusiasm for Princeton began even before he set foot on campus. As he tells it, at a college fair at his high school in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, he met then-recent-graduate Bob Wolf ’73, who convinced King to tour the Princeton campus with him the following weekend. The rest was history.
“The magnolias were in bloom, and it was just gorgeous,” says King, chuckling.
Though he’d initially considered majoring in math, King switched to biology after becoming fascinated with Professor James L. Gould’s research on honeybees. King had studied honeybees every summer at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Children’s Garden and loved it.
As luck would have it, it was all thanks to King’s focus on honeybees at Princeton that he first discovered the inimitable experience that is Reunions: Like many biology majors, King stayed on campus during the summer between his junior and senior years to work on his thesis. It was then, on the first night of Reunions, that he peered out a friend’s window into Blair Courtyard, thinking, “This is craziness. I love it.”
It convinced him to go downstairs and experience the magic himself — and to come back to campus and experience it again every year afterward.
“In large part, it is a history lesson: a history of Reunions, a history of life.”
— Gary King ’79
Now, King works hard to share that magic with other alumni. He begins prepping for the upcoming year’s P-rade narration in March by gathering facts for each alumni year. Beginning in April, major-year reunion committees submit narratives for their own years, which King then edits and combines with his own copious notes to create a master script. He says he’s usually tweaking that Microsoft Word document until the night before the P-rade, trying to ensure it engages all the different people in the audience, from young alumni and Old Guard classes to family and friends.
“I have to pare down, bring out the highlights,” he says. “Early on, I decided we’re not going to talk about anything negative. Because the one thing that always seemed to come up whenever the Class of ’79 used to march by was, ‘In 1979, Three Mile Island happened.’ It was like, ‘You don’t have to remind us that Three Mile Island happened!’ So, I think about what positive events I can talk about.”
From World Series champions to Oscar winners, from the inclusion of graduate students to the origins of the iconic locomotive cheer, King’s narration has something for everyone.
King was tapped to narrate the P-rade in 2019 after years of being involved with Reunions. He had helped organize his fifth, served as P-rade chair for both his 20th and 30th, then became co-chair of all Reunions, before taking over as his class president at his 35th.
He succeeds PAW contributor Gregg Lange ’70, who served as narrator for 26 years before stepping down. King and Lange immediately bonded over their shared love of the late radio personality Jean Shepherd Jr.
“Both Gregg and I had grown up listening to Jean Shepherd tell stories,” King says. “When we found that out, it was like, this is a natural fit. It’s just passing from one storyteller to the next storyteller.”
This year, King is looking forward to seeing the new beer jacket design and to reconnecting with Wolf, who will be celebrating his 50th reunion on campus. King has also been invited to teach freshmen the locomotive cheer at this year’s Pre-rade.
“I just hope everybody realizes how excited I am to see everybody back,” King says.