Shared thoughts on Reunions

From left: Reisman ’14, Miller ’49, Thomas ’09, and Coates ’89
From left: Reisman ’14, Miller ’49, Thomas ’09, and Coates ’89
Beverly Schaefer

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. 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.

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.

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 as students. 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 at 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. I think that is a unique strength of Princeton’s. It’s not just a four-year school.

What makes for a good Reunions jacket or costume?

JT: One, lots 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: 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. 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.

What is your favorite part of the weekend?

DR: That is 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. 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, but it’s really about the generations coming together.

LM: My favorite part is seeing old friends, and even widows of old friends or their children. For me, it’s great to sit at lunch and flash back on those old times. 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 improve Reunions?

CC: 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 was all there together. More moments like that would be so cool.

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? As Christie said, it’s a joyful time. 

Interview conducted and condensed by Mark F. Bernstein ’83