For Princeton University numerologists, there’s no magic to my upcoming alumni reunion — No. 38 for us in the Class of 1969. At Princeton you have to have a 5 or 0 in your anniversary year to claim a big reunion. This year my class will be a second banana at the courtyard commanded by the Class of 1967, the 40th reunion class.
But our class often has some little trick up its sleeve. Though I have never fact-checked this claim, some say that we were the last class chosen under the tenure of a dean of admission named E. Alden Dunham, and that he worked with unusual zeal to admit a well rounded class of diverse individuals, rather than a class of well-rounded individuals, which had been the Princeton approach to selecting an incoming class. Some called our class “Dunham’s revenge.”
I do know that we were the class that bore the brunt of the student power movement. We were the last Princeton class to graduate before coeducation. A couple of guys from our class helped form the first popular alternative to the undergraduate eating clubs that until then had dominated the social life for upperclassmen.
But, all that anti-establishment energy notwithstanding, my class has always turned out in droves for Reunions, for the off years as well as for the big years. Go figure.
Reunions began early for me this year with an intriguing invitation from Lynn Shostack Gardner, the widow of David A. Gardner, a member of our class who died in 2001, after a long battle with muscular dystrophy. The invitation was to attend a dinner and a magic show on April 20 at McCarter. Magic? Yes. If Dunham was seeking diverse individuals back in the spring of 1965, he must have been impressed with the resume of Gardner: a good student from Cleveland with a proclivity for science and — get this — a card carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Gardner helped pay his tuition by teaching chemistry at Princeton Day School and by putting on magic shows at birthday parties and at the undergraduate eating clubs. After graduation Gardner earned his MBA at the Harvard Business School, where he met Shostack, who became his wife and partner in a successful venture capital and commercial real estate firm.
So when he died and a sizable amount of money was available for a foundation, Shostack decided to honor Gardner’s memory in an unusual way. She created the David Gardner Magic Project, which not only sponsors the magic show to which I was invited but also underwrites dozens of arcane research projects that might not otherwise see a dollar of support from the major donors.
As an administrator in the university’s Council of the Humanities explained in a 2004 interview with the Princeton Alumni Weekly, the Magic Project supports “those esoteric areas [that] don’t draw a lot of students and don’t attract major donors because most major donors want their name plastered on something. This is a subterranean kind of idea.”
The actual magic show after the dinner was the icing on the cake: Seven classical magicians from a club called Monday Night Magic in New York performed the great standards of magic with none of the high tech accouterments that are part of the magic you see nowadays on television and in Las Vegas. Playing cards flew through the air, scarves fluttered, and rings became linked and unlinked in ways your eyes could never figure out.
I came home that night to a phone message from another member of the Class of ‘69 who had not been to the magic show. That was Stephanos Polyzoides, one of my roommates in my final two years at Princeton and now an architect and urban planner based in Pasadena, California. He was in town for an informal reunion of architecture students from the Class of ‘69 and wondered if I could meet them for lunch on Saturday.
Back in the day they might have called it a counter-reunion. I met up with the architects on the walkway leading from Washington Road over to the Engineering Quadrangle. From there we walked over to a Chinese restaurant at corner of Nassau and Chestnut streets. The architects traded comments about the Princeton buildings they had visited on their weekend reunion, and it was obvious they were getting together on campus for more than socializing over a keg of beer.
A month later, when U.S. 1’s Survival Guide editor, Kathy Spring, mentioned that she was commissioning a story on campus architecture, I suggested she contact some of my college classmates. I thought they might just have a comment or two about the campus landscape (see page 12).
At that Saturday lunch they wondered why it had taken them so long to organize this reunion. I thought they could have expedited the event by just doing it at the same time as the official reunions. No, one of them said, our class never did pay that much attention to the official course of action. So that might not have worked at all.
Of course. And David Gardner’s heirs could have endowed a professorship in economics, as well, but they didn’t. Reminded of the off-beat but uplifting events of the night before, I asked if any of the architects knew David Gardner during our college days. Several knew him well and were still in awe of his magical powers. As the waiter brought the check the architects began to split it six different ways, but I had another idea:
“Guys, you can thank David Gardner for this,” I said, explaining that Gardner’s Magic Project had treated me and my family to an event that would have cost several hundred dollars if I had had to pay my way. The least I could do was pick up the lunch check. It was for $57. I started to figure a 20 percent tip, but struggled with the arithmetic and finally just rounded it up to $12. Check total: $69. Another bit of magic from the Class of ‘69.
It was a magical weekend and the official reunion this first weekend in June may not be nearly so much fun. But I’ll go anyhow: Someone might have a trick up his sleeve.