Days after alumni got the news in March that Reunions would not take place as scheduled because of the COVID-19 outbreak, major-reunion chairs and other class leaders were anxious to propose a suitable make-up event.
“Our hope ... is that our 25th reunion will be postponed until May 2021,” Reunions co-chairs Bryce Dakin ’95 and Rick Corcoran ’95 wrote in a letter to their class. “Speaking personally, we are getting increasingly excited to be a part of what would be the biggest P-rade and Reunions ever,” they added, alluding to a much-discussed suggestion of a combined celebration with next year’s major Reunions classes.
Considerations for an alternative gathering were ongoing, Deputy Vice President for Alumni Engagement Alexandra Day ’02 said in an email in March. She noted that Princeton is “currently exploring options for how we will celebrate our community in 2021 and beyond,” adding that the University hoped to share updates “in coming months.”
Perhaps no class has had worse luck with Princeton rites of passage than the Class of 1970, which was due to celebrate its 50th reunion this year. In its final semester, classes were canceled because students went on strike after the Kent State shootings and President Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia. According to reunion-book editor Jack Wilmer ’70, about 90 percent of the class “ditched cap and gown and wore armbands with a peace symbol” at Commencement. There was no Senior Prom or Senior Step Sing, Wilmer recalled, and most classmates sat out their first P-rade in protest of the Vietnam War. “So 2020 is a coda,” he said.
“In a Season of Unrest/Amid the Crossfires of the Left and Right/ We Found Here/ In Gothic Halls and in the Goodness of Friends/ The Keep of Reason/ And the Steadying Bond of Community.”
— Robert R. Cullinane ’70; inscribed at the Class of 1970 Plaza on Washington Road
Two days after learning his 50th was canceled — at least for now — Reunions chair Bruce Millman ’70 wrote to his classmates: “I’m sure you were all disappointed, to say the least. Discouraged. Frustrated.” But he followed up: “One of my partners (Class of ’73) sympathized this week that we were the class of cicadas and viruses,” he said referring to the cacophonous bugs that made their presence well-known throughout 1970’s Commencement. “Well, we turned the cicadas into a Reunions theme that has resonated and created P-rade excitement for at least 30 years! We will not be daunted by a virus.” The Brood X cicadas, which resurface every 17 years, are due to hum again in 2021.
Despite their disappointment, class leaders — and presumably most alumni — had no question that canceling the celebration this year was the right call, especially with social-distancing guidelines in effect in New Jersey indefinitely. The major-reunion classes of 2010, 1995, and 1970 overwhelmingly met news of this year’s cancellation with resigned acceptance, according to those Reunions chairs and class leaders.
“For most of us in our class and myself, we thought this was the inevitable and correct decision,” said George Bustin ’70, the class co-president.
Class of 2010 Reunions co-chair Meaghan Byrne ’10 said in an email: “We’re obviously super disappointed not to be able to celebrate this year, but the health of the alumni community, our friends, family, and the wider public comes first.”
Reunions, which draws some 25,000 alumni and guests to campus, had been scheduled for May 28–31. It has been called off in 1917, 1918, 1943, 1944, and 1945 since its inception in 1859 — each time, until now, because of a world war. The so-called Victory Reunion in 1946 saw a then-record attendance of 7,300 alumni. That momentous gathering, with its robust participation, is today seen as the first of the modern Reunions.
While some classes may face financial losses, some class leaders — including Bustin and Dakin — were optimistic that vendors would be understanding and cooperative, and they did not expect to incur large costs.
Bustin, who has been on conference calls with reunion chairs, class officers, the Alumni Council, and the Alumni Engagement office, agreed that the ideal do-over would be next May. “I predict that we will, as an alumni body, have Reunions. When and exactly how we have them remains to be seen,” he said. “But I’m confident we will find a way to celebrate together when it is safe to do so.”
His classmate Millman noted that it’s not the party that makes Reunions meaningful, but the connections to each other and to Princeton. “The attachment doesn’t disappear just because we’re not all congregating in the same place at the same time, wearing funny jackets, listening to oldies, and drinking beer,” he wrote. “Please let’s not be disheartened. Let’s stay healthy, be grateful for our time together at Old Nassau, and look to the future — with one accord rejoicing still.”