Reunions and the P-rade
Princeton University reunions date back to the beginning of the College of New Jersey (as Princeton University was then known). Alumni would often return to campus for commencement, to meet classmates, to reunite with friends, as well as visit with favorite professors. Early alumni gatherings ranged from informal meetings to alumni dinners featuring guest speakers. Alumni presence at commencement was so reliable that in 1826 returning alumni formed the Alumni Association of Nassau Hall. Its goal was to “promote the interests of the college and the friendly intercourse of the graduates, and meetings were to be held annually in the Prayer Hall on commencement day.” James Madison, Class of 1771, was the Associations's first president, and College president John Maclean was secretary.
Reunions continued throughout the 19th-century, and after the Civil War reunion classes started giving gifts to the University. To celebrate its 10th reunion the Class of 1859 endowed a senior prize in English. Not to be outdone, for their 10th reunion the Class of 1860 started a graduate fellowship in experimental science. The Class of 1866's 10th reunion raised funds to place a clock in the cupola of Nassau Hall.
The sesquicentennial of the College in 1896 brought over 2,000 alumni to campus to join in the celebration. Attendance at reunions continued to grow--with five year reunions more heavily attended than so-called “off year” reunions--and programs expanded in response to the demand. Classes started to arrange temporary housing, hired entertainment, and coordinated a wide range of activities for alumni. To help identify classmates and class years, individual classes began to adopt banners, hatbands, blazers, and costumes, making Princeton reunions an extremely colorful event.
The tradition of publishing a commemorative "reunion book" began early. In 1888 a Biography of the Class of 1835 of the College of New Jersey was published. It included poems and biographical information on classmates. For their first anniversary, the Class of 1889 published a list of its members, their occupations, and addresses. Over the next 50 years, the amount of information included in these “reunion books” increased to include a class history, biographical sketches of classmates, and memorials to lost members. This tradition continues with classes compiling statistics and recent biographies of all their living members, with the 25th and 50th reunion books being the most elaborate.
During the 20th-century, reunions continued to grow in popularity. Festivities were cancelled during both world wars, but in peacetime nothing can keep Princetonians away from campus.
Classes started to compete for the best attendance at their reunion. In 1912 the Class of 1901 gave a silver cup to be awarded annually to the class having the highest percentage of its living members registered at a major reunion. Attendance winners have ranged from 52 percent (the Class of 1919 at its 50th) to 77.3 percent (the Class of 1898 at its 25th). In the 1930s more attendance awards were established, with the Class of 1921 Plaque given to the major reunion class with the largest number of its members registered at a reunion; and the Class of 1894 bowl for the off-year class with the largest percentage of classmates registered at a reunion. The Class of 1915 cup is give to the off-year class with the largest number of its members registered at an off-year reunion.
The Alumni Parade (P-rade)
One of the most popular and colorful reunion events is the annual P-rade. Reunion classes line up and march through campus, celebrating their class, its achievements, and their love of Old Nassau. The origin of the parade can be traced to two separate but closely related reunion events. The first was a procession to the reunion dinner when classes would gather and walk together to their dinner meeting. The second was an informal “march” to the Princeton-Yale baseball game (a rivalry that began in 1868). The game, held during reunion festivities, was popular among alumni and their families. Classes would gather together and often hire a band to lead them to the game. It was clear that Princeton men looked for any opportunity to march together as a class. During these two processions alumni would wear class pins, ribbons, and carry banners.
In 1906 reunion planners were faced with a growing problem: how could they seat all of the alumni at the baseball game and prevent the mad dash for the best seats? They decided to take advantage of the alumni preference to march and proposed a formal procession to the game. The idea was met with enthusiasm, and the reunion parade was born. With the high visibility of the P-rade, class pins, banners, and ribbons were quickly replaced by elaborate reunion costumes. One of the earliest was unveiled at the Class of 1898's 10th reunion when members dressed as Roman soldiers, complete with tunics, buskins with orange lacing to the knee, and shields with their class insignia. Other early costumes included Dutch boys, Apache dancers, devils, Scottish highlanders, monks, and even tigers.
Reunion costumes also reflected the social climate of the time. In 1910 the Class of 1900 dressed as suffragettes and wore long dresses. “Big Bill” Edwards, former football star, led them on horseback dressed as Joan of Arc. Other classes would often hold up signs supporting the U. S. President or questioning a political decision. For example, one class held a sign that read “FDR is a Harvard man with a Yale honorary degree.”
Alumni costumes were not the only attraction. Live animals often participated in the P-rade. The first formal P-rade (1906) featured a troupe of trained lions. Two tigers marched in 1923, and three elephants led the Class of 1944 “clowns” down Nassau Street in 1949.
Classes celebrating major reunions often have bands march with them. Bands include bagpipes, brass bands, and fife and drum corps. Some P-rades have had as many as thirty bands march with the classes.
Until the 1920s only alumni (and live animal acts) could march in the P-rade, but there was a growing demand to allow alumni families to participate. In the 1920s children were allowed to march. However, women did not officially join the P-rade until 1969 when Princeton went co-educational.
The catalyst for the P-rade, the Princeton-Yale baseball game, came to an end in 1966 when Yale announced that it could no longer keep its baseball roster full after graduation. A game between the Princeton varsity baseball team and an alumni team replaced the Princeton-Yale game. In 1968 the game coincided with the funeral of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. The University canceled the game that year, and it was never resumed.
A controversy surrounded the P-rade of 1970. The senior class voted not to participate in something as lighthearted as a parade during a time of anti-war demonstrations and campus unrest. The P-rade went on as scheduled, and some members of the Class of 1970 did march with the reunion classes despite the senior class boycott.
Order of the P-rade
The Grand Marshall and two flanking marshals open the FitzRandolph Gates and proceed to Nassau Hall where they are joined by the University President, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, the President of the Alumni Association, and the Chair of the Committee on Reunions. This group leads the Princeton University Band and the alumni reunion classes through campus.
The order of the classes is as follows: first, the 25th reunion class; then the oldest returning alumnus (this person carries the Class of 1923 Cane which is awarded to the oldest member of the oldest class present at Reunions);
then the Old Guard; the other reunion classes follow in reverse chronological order until 26th reunion; then graduate alumni; the 24th reunion class is next, followed by the remaining classes in reverse chronological order; and, finally, the graduating senior class ends the procession.
Class reunion books
Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, c. 1850-1996
Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005
Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available. See sections on Alumni Parade and Reunions.
Princeton Alumni Weekly (Summer issue)
Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection, c. 1968-c. 1991
Princetoniana Committee: Campus Traditions, History, and Lore sections on P-rade and Reunions and Reunion Costumes and Jackets.
Wertenback, Thomas Jefferson. Princeton: 1746-1896. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1946).
White, Dan. "The Festival and Fantasy of Princeton Reunions," Princeton Alumni Weekly, May 18, 1978.
Nancy Shader (2003)
Last modified: Tuesday, 24-Apr-2012 14:02:02 EDT