I’m marking my calendar for this year’s Princeton Reunions events. An alumni debate on Friday, June 2, at 12:45 p.m. featuring members of the Class of 2017 and the Class of 1992, including U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. A forum on Friday at 3 p.m. with Kathryn Watterson, who compiled a recently published collection of oral histories titled “I Hear My People Singing: Voices of African American Princeton.” And then a “conversation” with Senator Cruz and professor Robert George, one of Princeton’s leading conservative voices and a longtime Cruz supporter, on Saturday, June 3, at 9:30 a.m.
One more thing penciled on to my handy wall calendar: A visit to the class headquarters on Thursday evening to sign in and collect my all-important wristband. The Watterson event is open to the public, but the Ted Cruz events are limited to those with wristbands. These days you have to plan ahead.
Years ago, when I first began attending Princeton Reunions, it was pretty casual. We paid our fees, got our badges, and then roamed the campus, looking for old friends, or for people we had known from alumni gatherings in our hometown, or just the reunion class that had the hottest band. Why not?
Because we happened to live in town, sometimes we didn’t even bother to register. Instead, as Reunion weekend dawned we grabbed whatever gaudy orange and black garment we had from a prior year, made sure it was festooned with badges from prior years, and made our way over to the campus for all the reasons stated above. And every so often it paid to not march in the P-Rade, but rather to just sit on the sidelines and watch. First the 25th year class marches by, then the rest of the classes, from oldest (possibly a few still from the Class of 1939 or ’38 this year?), and then each successive class until you reach the graduating Class of 2017. From the sidelines you can watch your life pass in front of you.
Along this long and winding road, to borrow a phrase from one of my class’s Reunions themes, some things have changed. For one the size of each class has grown dramatically, from about 800 in my day to about 1,300 today. Larger undergraduate classes mean bigger Reunions crowds, filling the courtyards of various dormitory clusters around campus.
Another thing, though pure conjecture on my part, is that some people really do believe that 60 is the new 40, and so on. For middle and older-aged alumni, Reunions is the place to prove that theory. Years ago, perhaps at my 10th reunion, I remember a classmate suggesting we visit the 35th reunion, where the alumni, by then comfortable with their own status in life and no longer needing to prove anything, were enjoying a genteel affair with champagne and a big band. (Someone may also have mentioned some alumni daughters might be present.) Fast forward to my 35th reunion or any more recent 35th reunions: Rock bands pound the ear drums. Recorded music is teed up to begin as soon as the live band stops. It’s non-stop party time. (If alumni daughters are there, you can try to talk to them but you can’t hear what they are saying.)
Reunions has become a hot ticket — the hottest ticket in town.
The badges remain. You can pin a new one on your class uniform, and that will help your increasingly decrepit classmates recognize you and associate your name with your image — and vice versa, of course. But otherwise the badges mean nothing. What counts now are the wristbands.
I discovered how much the wristbands count a few weeks ago when a longtime friend of mine (a Yale alumna) wondered if I could invite her, her husband, and high school-age son to an evening of Reunions so that they could see first hand what all the fuss is.
Why not? When I registered my significant other and myself for my 48th Reunion, paid $130 for two spots at the class dinner on Saturday night, and then went to the box asking if I had any guests, I followed the instructions and put down their names.
A few hours later I received an e-mail from a classmate, who had volunteered to keep track of registrations and payments. He had a question: Who are those people named as guests?
I gave him the particulars — friends from town, etc., who just wanted to spend an hour or two poking around the alumni tents.
A few hours after that I heard from another classmate , this time a class officer. “As you are probably aware, as members of a satellite class, a class that is not having a major reunion this year, we are limited as to the number and types of guests who may be registered for wristbands. This policy was adopted by the Committee on Reunions in 2015, has not been changed since then and is enforced by the university staff. So that there will be no misunderstanding about the policy, I include it here.”
I read the attached policy and was surprised to discover that for members of the “satellite classes,” those celebrating an off-year reunion as opposed to a “major” reunion that occurs every five years, the alumni spouse or significant other counts as your one guest. Children and grandchildren, however, do not count as guests and can accompany you — my cynical self thinks that the alumnus is the customer, locked in for life. The children, however, could be prospects. Let’s keep them happy.
I’m not complaining. I can appreciate that the “Committee on Reunions” had a difficult task back in 2015, trying to keep a lid (for now, at least) on the hordes of people at Reunions. And I also appreciate that the best part of the whole weekend is the P-Rade on Saturday, starting at 2 p.m. It’s free, open to the public with or without wristbands, and very casual. Check it out. “Casual” may not last forever.
For a calendar of alumni forums, visit alumni.princeton.edu/goinback/reunions.