This year’s Reunions was celebrated with the traditions held dear by generations of graduates — the arresting orange-and-black attire, the jubilant (and this time, sweltering) procession through campus, the locomotives at scores of campus gatherings. But the festivities held a twinge of melancholy, for they also marked a farewell to a beloved president.
“Shirley h’59. You go girl!” read a sign held aloft in the P-rade. One alum recounted the contents of a postcard he sent President Tilghman upon learning of her retirement: “I am bereft.” Many alumni, joyous to return to their alma mater, paused to reflect on what they would miss about Princeton’s 19th president.
In between the 7 a.m. yoga class in Little Courtyard and the late-night parties (the Class of 1963 was said to have snagged Neil Diamond, but it was an impersonator), alumni gave Tilghman numerous tributes. The Alumni Association passed a resolution praising her “devoted service to Princeton and especially to its alumni.” There was an award from the Association of Black Princeton Alumni, an original poem from the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni (its last line was “We heart you, Shirley, surely we do!”), new honorary memberships in the classes of 1953, 1958, 1988, 1993, and 2013, and countless standing ovations, locomotives, and hugs. George Brakeley ’61 praised “her non-BS answers.” Susan B. Ridgely ’96 described her as “incredibly warm and engaging.” Brien O’Neill ’75 said simply, “She’ll be missed.”
Amid the celebration of its first female president, the University also saluted the first class to include women for all four years, the Class of 1973. A panel of female Prince editors included three from ’73 and three current editors. “Is there reticence when it comes to speaking up in class?” asked panelist Annalyn Swan ’73, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and former magazine editor. The response might have sounded disheartening, if familiar. “Sometimes I hold back,” said Sarah Schwartz ’15, opinions editor at the Prince. “But it also has to do with the way male professors and classmates act. ... I’ve literally been shouted at by male classmates — it’s not that they want to stop me from talking, they just think that what they have to say is really important.”
There were many only-at-Reunions moments. On Saturday afternoon, members of the Class of 1998 set the first Guinness world record for the largest gathering of people in tennis outfits, with 252 people gathered at Blair Arch wearing tennis shirts and sweatbands, rackets in hand. And alumni debuted the new Tiggy the Tigerator, a 10-foot-tall, boom-box-carrying, sunglasses-wearing, beer-dispensing metal-and-fiberglass tiger, who traveled on wheels through the P-rade.
As alumni bid adieu to Tilghman, they welcomed her successor, former provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, who took the helm July 1. Pennants at the P-rade trumpeted “Shirley! Shirley! Shirley!” as well as “Chris! Chris! Chris!” One sign gave Eisgruber a vote of confidence: “Thank you, presidential search committee!”
In a lighthearted speech after Reunions at Class Day, Tilghman joked that, like the graduating class, next year on her London sabbatical she would “be unemployed. Finding myself. Taking daily yoga classes. And maybe even writing a play.” At a Saturday morning conversation she and Eisgruber held with alumni, Tilghman struck a note that was both nostalgic and optimistic. “In a month, I will be marching out of FitzRandolph Gate ... and it will be for the last time as president. I’m going to be marching out that gate with the lightest of steps and with the happiest of hearts, because I am leaving this University in the best imaginable hands.”