Few events anywhere can tie generations together like Princeton Reunions. Last May, PAW brought together three alums and a graduating senior to share their thoughts about Princeton’s big weekend. Here’s what Lew Miller ’49, Jackie Thomas ’09, Christie Coates ’89, and Dillon Reisman ’14 had to say.
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This episode of PAW Tracks was recorded at Reunions last May.
Few events anywhere can tie generations together like Princeton Reunions. PAW brought together three alums and a graduating senior to share their thoughts about Princeton’s big weekend. Senior writer Mark Bernstein ’83 asked the questions. Here’s what Lew Miller ’49 (LM), Jackie Thomas ’09 (JT), and Christie Coates ’89 (CC) — along with Dillon Reisman ’14 (DR) — had to say.
I guess the first question doesn’t apply to you, Dillon, but how often do the rest of you come back to Reunions?
LM: For me, it’s been just about every year for, maybe not all 65, but probably [all] after the fifth or 10th — I can’t remember when I started to come back every year. Of course that’s what got me more involved in class activities and eventually in charge of special gifts. That’s always a blessing. Eventually I became president of the class for our 50th, which was a very exciting occasion, to come back to the 50th and have a huge turnout, doff your hat in the P-rade to the graduating seniors who would cheer and throw beer cans at you.
CC: My husband [Jack Hergenrother] is Class of ’88, so we try to come back as often as we can.
JT: I’ve come back every year since graduation. I was at grad school in England a few years ago and my dad said, “Hey, I’d love to see you and I’ll pay for you to come back to Reunions.” So I did. A lot of my classmates have been back all five years. We’re really international, we have people [coming] from Australia, Asia, Europe.
DR: I play in the band so I’ve been here all four years as an undergrad. They say that the real world exists to fill in the gaps between reunions and I think that’s true, for undergrads, too. I tell all my undergrad friends: Find some student group you can stay with and come to Reunions because it’s just so cool.
Lew, how has Reunions changed over the years?
LM: Probably the best example I can mention happened at our 25th reunion, in 1974. I was at the bar with a bunch of guys who were complaining bitterly about Princeton admitting women. Suddenly this young woman came up, threw her arms around me, and said, “Dad, I’m so glad to see you!” I said, “I want you to meet my daughter, Class of ’77.” Those guys shut up in a hurry. So that’s one example of how Reunions have changed.
For our class, and a bunch of the other classes that graduated around the end of World War II, we didn’t know each other very well on campus. Many of us were returning to campus at different times from the service, and there were graduation ceremonies throughout the year. We had 13 different graduation times for people of the Class of ’49. So I got to know many more of my classmates through Reunions than I did as an undergraduate.
Have others found that you have gotten to know classmates?
CC: Oh, definitely. A great example is my Reunions co-chair, Lisa Washington [’89]. Unfortunately our paths didn’t cross very often when we were students, but we’ve collaborated on a couple of Reunions and she’s a dear friend now. That’s just one example. I think that is a unique strength of Princeton’s. I really think that the University encourages that involvement. It’s not just a four-year school.
What makes for a good Reunions jacket or costume?
JT: One, lots of orange! I’m always disappointed if there’s not a lot of orange. Two, it’s June in Princeton — I think a lot of times people forget that. My class is going to wear lederhosen, and I’m grateful that it is going to be a little on the chilly side.
LM: You realize that the Class of ’44 once had lederhosen for their costumes.
JT: I had heard a rumor about that, but I couldn’t find it.
LM: There has been a lot of controversy in our class about having such a simple black-and-white jacket. But when I was traveling five months out of the year I’d often have to fly in to Reunions without going home first, and I could wear this jacket and people would say, “Oh, it must be a club jacket.” They had no idea that it had anything to do with Princeton or Reunions. It had it’s plusses that way. My class always felt that we were being discreet.
JT: I think that’s good for the jackets. I think the costumes should be obnoxious.
LM: We had obnoxious costumes for the first 25 years. I didn’t save a one of them.
Christie, the Class of ’89 has relatively understated jackets compared to many other years. Was there a debate over that?
CC: There was no debate for Lisa and me. In fact, a large reason we decided to take on the job of co-chairing our 25th reunion is because we wanted to have a say in what our jackets looked like. This is absolutely the design we had hoped for. This is the look that we wanted. We seem to be getting positive feedback.
You also want to make sure everything looks nice in the P-rade. We’ll always be marching behind the Class of ’88 and their jackets are mostly orange, so we knew that we needed to do something in cream or black.
What is your favorite part of the weekend?
DR: That is so tough, because I love the fireworks so much. They’re better than any Fourth of July display I’ve ever seen. But the best thing has to be the P-rade. Just seeing that sea of orange and black and all generations of Princetonians is so cool.
JT: I have to agree. It’s hard to beat the P-rade — I’ve been going since I was about 2. My mom is Class of ’78, and I’ve been going since I was about 2 years old. People think Reunions is just a big party, it’s about drinking, but it’s really about the generations coming together. You see everybody, you high-five them, you toss beers at them. That’s why you can’t beat it.
LM: I have a little different feeling at this point, different than what I would have thought at the 25th. To me, the number one favorite part is seeing old friends, and now even widows of old friends or their children. I wrote letters, along with the class president, to more than 300 widows and alumni children asking them to come back. And when I knew the classmate who’d died, I’d write a personal note. I have writer’s cramp — over two days, doing these things. And we’re getting back at least 10 of these widows, and some alumni children.
For me, it’s great to sit at lunch and flash back on those old times. For me that’s number one.
Number two, I also like the alumni-faculty forums. I find them intellectually stimulating, and it is moving to hear what other people are doing in their careers.
Is there anything that could be done to make Reunions even better?
CC: Honestly, it’s such a joyful experience — the P-rade gives me goose bumps whenever I march in it. You’re welcome every single year, which I love. I wouldn’t change a thing.
DR: Last year there was a rumor that Neil Diamond was playing at the 50th tent. Of course he wasn’t, but when I went up there the courtyard was packed, and not just with people from the 50th. Everyone from every class year was all there together. More moments like that would be so cool.
CC: We just had Flo Rida last night, and we kept everything under wraps for a long time and then opened it up. It did not take long to get that dance floor completely packed.
What suggestions would you give to Dillon, who is joining the alumni ranks?
JT: Just come back, and remember that Reunions is supposed to be fun. I’m my class’s Reunions chair, and sometimes when I deal with angry classmates I look at them and think, you went to the best school on earth and you get to come back to Reunions. Why are you angry? Just remember it’s supposed to be fun. As Christie said, it’s a joyful time.
LM: Well I’d tell you not to become reunion chairman …
DR: So come back, but don’t have any responsibility?
JT: That is a great place to be.
CC: Well I would say, maybe not chair, but in general, a more involved alum is a happier alum.