Hours before the P-rade on Saturday at Reunions, word began circulating that Princeton’s oldest-ever alum, Joe Schien ’37, had died Friday morning at age 109. Schein had become a fixture at Reunions weekend, kicking off the P-rade while carrying the Class of 1923 Cane since 2016. That first year at age 101, Schein walked the entire P-rade route and continued to do so throughout most of his reign. 

“Our father always felt that Princeton was ‘paradise,’” his son Oliver Schein ’76 wrote in an email to PAW on behalf of him and his brother Roland Schein ’74. “He felt that way when he took us to his 25th reunion in 1962, when he attended our graduations in ’74 and ’76, and when we accompanied him to his 86th reunion in 2023!”

His love and dedication to Princeton will forever be cemented, as his family plans to bury Schein in his class jacket, Princeton tie, and Einstein baseball cap that reads “E=mc².” Despite the sad news, Schein offered a final message to reuners through an Instagram video shared by the University on Friday. 

“I wish you a very happy Reunion and I wish you all the good fortune that life can bring if you are prepared for it, as you certainly have been at Princeton,” he said. “Go Tigers!” 

A day later, Don Fletcher ’39 *51, 105, took the Class of 1923 Cane and started the P-rade. As reuners made their way down Elm Drive, pro-Palestinian protesters rushed into the middle of the road and temporarily blocked the festivities. Security intervened, causing protesters to clear the road. The disruption lasted about two minutes. Protesters began chanting alongside the path near the Class of 2019 and 2020 staging areas and the P-rade continued without further incident. 

Don Fletcher ’39 *51 rides in a golf cart with the Class of 1923 Cane.
Don Fletcher ’39 *51 carries the Class of 1923 Cane.
Kevin Birch
The group, which grew to more than 100 protesters throughout the P-rade, handed out cards and Palestinian flags, and asked alumni to sign their pledge to withhold donations from the University until it meets the group’s divestment demands. The pledge had 701 signatures as of Monday. 

Reactions were mixed: Some alumni cheered and high-fived the protesters, as others voiced their disapproval — verbally and with hand gestures. One marcher threw his drink at the protesters. But largely the sea of paraders sporting orange and black tiger stripes proceeded as usual, with marching bands and music from floats often drowning out the chants.

A handful of other disruptions by protesters occurred during the weekend, including painting the words “pretty town bloody gown” across the white columns of Robertson Hall, dyeing the water in Princeton’s Fountain of Freedom red, and interrupting President Christopher Eisgruber ’83’s annual Q&A. But many alumni told PAW they were unaware of these incidents.  

Indeed, for a large majority of the roughly 25,000 alumni, family, guests, faculty, staff, and graduating seniors, Reunions 2024 was celebrated as usual, under warm and sunny skies.

There were alums in inflatable tiger and dinosaur costumes, various western attire for the Class of 2009’s Rodeo theme, as well as the Class of 2014’s bright and clashing pink-and-orange-striped outfits as part of their Malibu 10 theme, a nod to Barbie.

Kevin Birch
Perhaps one of the happiest people at this year’s event was Marissa Hart ’24, who was celebrating her birthday. “It’s a party all around campus, so it’s the best way to celebrate,” she said. Amid all the orange and black, Hart, who had a gold “It’s my birthday” sash and three big balloons, was hard to miss. “I just love Princeton and I’m happy to be here for my birthday!”

Throughout the weekend, alumni partied under the tents, reconnected over meals, dove into a variety of topics at more than a dozen Alumni-Faculty Forums, and made memories at many other events and gatherings. 

The ripple effects of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack and the ongoing Israel-Hamas war were discussed in a handful of panels. On Friday, a packed room of more than 50 mostly Jewish alumni met at Princeton’s Chabad House for a panel titled “Crisis for Israel, Crisis for American Jews: What’s Next?” The hour-long discussion moderated by Rabbi Eitan Webb with panelists Owen Alterman ’99, Ilya Shapiro ’99, and Leah Powell ’26 covered the climate for Jewish students on campus, views on the situation abroad, and the ways the alumni community can help, among other topics. 

“I shouldn’t feel distressed walking through campus,” said Powell, vice president of the Chabad Student Board. She explained that some of the protesters' chants are offensive and that she’s been discouraged by the University’s response. 

Despite this, Alterman, a senior correspondent for Tel Aviv-based outlet i24 News, said the strengthened connection between the Jewish community has been one silver lining. “This is the ultimate stress test,” he said, adding it's been “an incredible positive surprise that really should give us a lot of strength going forward.”

A related conversation on free speech at universities between professor Keith Whittington and Jonathan Rauch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, took place Saturday morning. Hosted by Princetonians for Free Speech, Rauch began the conversation by quoting a portion of Whittington’s 2018 book Speak Freely in which he stated campuses are not yet in crisis and asked Whittington if his feelings have changed since then. “I think we’re doing worse,” Whittington said. 

“Part of my concern is that the problems that we see are in some ways the surface problems related to free speech and academic freedom, and below that surface are potentially much deeper problems,” he continued.

The conversation, which went on for more than an hour, focused on the importance of defending free speech, cited a handful of examples of censorship, and closed with an open discussion.

Climate change was another popular topic that featured opposing views in two panels on Friday.

At “America the Beautiful: From Sea to Shining Sea,” sponsored by the Concerned Black Alumni of Princeton, speakers discussed how systemic racism continues to impact the environmental landscape of the United States through a variety of means, such as the geographic location of landfills and incinerators, which have been shown to disproportionally impact communities of color.

“Land is something that cannot be moved, and when we think about the ways in which the colonial system treated land, it has always been a racialized concept,” said Kevon Rhiney, a visiting professor in the environment and the humanities at the High Meadows Environmental Institute.

Moderator Ariel Rogers ’08, a professor at Dominican University, said the interstate highway system and redlining pushed people of color “literally downhill, where the waste from day-to-day life would flow and trickle,” which led to the destruction and separation of communities, with ripple effects such as the creation of food deserts and increased health concerns.

That afternoon, the Conservative Princeton Association hosted “The Great Escape from Net Zero Hunger Games,” where speakers discussed the opportunities for Africa’s energy and agricultural potential and claimed to debunk climate change “myths.” For example, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of the center for Energy, Climate, and Environment at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said “most sea-level rise is a response to the interglacial period,” and not caused by human-induced climate change, though there is broad consensus among the scientific community, including at Princeton that human-caused global warming is the cause of the current rise of global sea levels.

Lindianne Sappington ’76, executive director of Snake River Music Gardens, a nonprofit focused on rural farming, spoke about how American agricultural regulations implemented to mitigate climate change concerns can hurt farmers. “Most food-producing families are too polite to say how we feel about what’s being done to us,” Sappington said, but ultimately, “If we don’t grow food, you don’t eat.”

The speakers were intensely questioned by a couple of members of the audience, and one person, who shouted over the presenters as they attempted to respond to his questions, was ultimately asked to stop speaking and left the room.

Mental health was also highlighted in two panels during the weekend. PAW’s Reunions panel, “Student Mental Health: Is It a Crisis, and What Can Be Done?” delved into what’s causing the anxiety and depression on the rise among college students — including at Princeton.

“Health is the integrated sum of our behavioral, physical, social-emotional health, and spiritual health,” said moderator Lucy McBride ’95, a family health physician. “When mental health is on the fritz … every aspect of our health is at stake.”

At another panel, Noah Luch ’24, a past co-chair of the student government’s Mental Health Committee, said that six Princeton students died by suicide while he was here. Over time numbness seemed to set in on campus, he said, and he was disappointed that some administrators seemed uncaring.

Calvin Chin, director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), said he hears that frustration but is encouraged by the changes he’s seen over 10 years in his job: Grade deflation was abandoned, staff at CPS increased 40%, and a push by students led to better handling of medical leave situations. “There are tangible things that have happened, and at the same time there is absolutely more that could be done,” Chin said.

The weekend ended with the annual fireworks show held in Princeton’s Stadium, a handful of alumni arch sings, plus more drinking and dancing under the stars into the early hours of Sunday morning. 

Jen Caudle ’99, a regular at Reunions, said the event seems to get better each year. While she participated in “a little of everything,” her favorite part was connecting with new people and developing new relationships that she missed out on the first time around as an undergraduate. 

“Princeton Reunions is the ultimate example and epitome of school spirit and community,” she said. “It’s just so neat to see how tight of a community we are and how much Princeton means to all of us.”