Just a few weeks shy of a roaring return to campus for the first in-person Reunions in three years, Princeton alumni are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to be together again May 19-22.
“We’re grateful, we’re excited, and it’s going to be awesome to be back on campus,” says Grace Baylis ’20, one of the Reunions co-chairs for the Class of 2020. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The Class of 2020 missed out on in-person Commencement and Reunions festivities because of the pandemic. With the 2020 Commencement scheduled for May 18, about 90 percent of classmates are expected to return to finally have both experiences, Baylis says. The University has guaranteed housing for members of the class and in early April announced it would cover the cost of wristbands for the classes of 2020 and 2021.
While many classes expressed frustration about planning challenges due to uncertainty related to COVID, most are confident that this celebration will be memorable. Class of 1962 Reunions co-chair Robert Burkhardt says his class hopes to set a 60th reunion attendance record. As of early April, more than 100 classmates had registered. The class organized rooms four years in advance at the Princeton Theological Seminary’s Erdman Center and sent out LXII baseball hats and kazoos for use in classmate selfies intended for a slideshow. “We’ve been working not on an assumption, but on a hope that Reunions would occur and as a result, we’ve gotten a lot of good stuff done,” Burkhardt says.
The Class of 1987 will celebrate its 35th reunion disco theme by trying to break the Guinness Book world record for the most people dancing the hustle — all reunion-goers are welcome. On Thursday night, the Class of 1977 will have an art show for classmates to showcase their work.
Some classes are coordinating to make Reunions greener. The Class of 1972 has organized the use of sustainable cups, which will be collected and recycled after Reunions. Buses from major cities including Boston and Philadelphia have been organized by the Class of 2017 to offer a convenient and more environmentally friendly way to get to campus.
While excitement is high, uncertainties remain. The University estimates a crowd ranging from 22,000 to more than 30,000 people. Some alumni suspect numbers will be closer to the latter and are concerned about the possibility of spreading COVID. Andrew Darlington ’02 struggled with deciding whether to return. He plans to be on campus but still has reservations. “I just hope that it is fun and that people can comfortably socialize and catch up without feeling like we’re all going to get sick,” he says.
Because of the expected turnout, housing has been a challenge for many classes. The University has arranged for beds at Rider University, Rider’s Westminster Choir College campus in Princeton, and the Princeton Theological Seminary to increase housing, says Alexandra Day ’02, deputy vice president for alumni engagement. Undergraduate student leaders of performing arts groups were alerted in mid-March that on-campus housing may not be available to all of their members.
Some alumni also expressed concerns with this year’s earlier Reunions dates, which conflict with high school graduations, proms, and other end-of-the-school-year events. Others were dissatisfied with the University’s visitor policy, which as of April requires all attendees to attest that they are up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations to obtain a wristband. The policy will likely be updated around mid-May to allow those who do not want to provide their vaccination status to attend as long as they wear masks while indoors, according to the Office of Environmental Health and Safety.
Despite the challenges, many alumni are happy to return. “Of course, there is uncertainty and complexity, but we are generally not too concerned about it,” says Class of 1995 Reunions co-chair Rick Corcoran. “We are just excited to have the chance to be together again.”