From a giant orange inflatable electric guitar to fuzzy backpacks with striped tiger faces, the Princeton University campus is awash in orange and black as approximately 26,000 Princeton alumni and guests are on campus for Reunions 2018. The festivities run Thursday through Sunday, May 31-June 3.
Returning classes range from the “Old Guard” — Joe Schein, a 1937 alumnus who is 103 and will travel from his home in New York City with 18 guests, including his sons Roland Schein, a 1974 alumnus, and Oliver Schein, a member of the Class of 1976; and Norm Carter, a 1938 alumnus who comes every year from Point Pleasant, New Jersey — to the “youngest” alumni, the Class of 2017. For the first time, the Old Guard led the P-rade through campus, which began Saturday afternoon, June 2, at FitzRandolph Gate. However, as thunderstorms arrived in the Princeton area, the parade was halted about 3 p.m. because lightning flashed within a few miles of campus.
Another tradition debuting this year is a Reunions jacket for graduate alumni. While graduate alumni have had 25-year Reunion blazers for many years, the desire for something new was growing, said John Cuniff, a 1988 graduate alumnus in civil engineering and operations research.
"With the ever-increasing engagement of graduate students and graduate alumni at Reunions, there has been much interest in also having a jacket similar to the graduating undergraduate classes," said Cuniff, the outgoing president of the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni (APGA). "We are excited for the graduate alumni to be participating in this time-honored Princeton tradition.”
The winning design, chosen from a contest held by APGA, is by Tiffany Tong, a 2012 graduate alumna in electrical engineering.
Reminiscing and reconnecting across generations
More than 300 members of the Class of 1968 traveled from across the United States and overseas to their 50th Reunion.
Edward Cadman flew from Seattle and joined his classmates Jack Warner and Norm Cubanski for a class meeting at McCosh Hall on Thursday afternoon. Cadman’s last visit to Princeton was two decades ago. He reminisced that as his class prepared to graduate in 1968, the world was in turmoil.
"I was aware of campus unrest," he said, "but I was so focused on my course work and completing my senior thesis that I really blocked out any deep inquiry into the protests. I was more anxious living with the possibility of being drafted and fearful of becoming a combatant in Vietnam." Cadman, an English major, recalled that he found a sense of peace at Princeton amid the turbulence of that era. In the early 1990s, while pursuing a career as an English teacher, he began a formal Zen practice, the seeds of which he said had been planted at the University where he discovered the poetry of Beat poet and Zen student Gary Snyder.
When Sharon Naeole, a 1973 alumna, decided to earn her bachelor's degree while raising two daughters in Princeton, she applied to the University as a transfer student after completing her first two years at Bucks County Community College. Naeole assumed the "big, fat" envelope in her mailbox was a rejection letter.
"I was stunned," Naeole said of being accepted. "I was so sure it was a mistake that I didn’t tell anyone and waited for my neighbor who worked at the University to come home to check it for me. He said, 'They don’t make mistakes!'"
Throughout her career as a political consultant and most recently as director of development of Princeton Senior Resource Center, Naeole, now retired, has enjoyed living in the town of Princeton, attending campus events, including public lectures and Princeton University Art Museum exhibitions. "It was a great place to raise my girls, and it's full of interesting people," said Naeole, who has attended Reunions every year since graduation. Now that her grandson, Sullivan Hughes, is a member of the Class of 2021, she said she’s "even more keen about what's going on."
Two New York-based writers and members of the Class of 2008, Jenny Xie and Bianca Bosker, took time from book tours to come to their 10th Reunion.
On May 29, Xie was named the 2018 recipient of the Theodore H. Holmes '51 and Bernice Holmes National Poetry Prize, awarded by the Lewis Center for the Arts' Program in Creative Writing. She is the first Princeton alumna to be awarded the prize. While on tour for her latest poetry collection, "Eye Level," she has enjoyed seeing Princeton friends and looks forward to catching up with classmates at Reunions.
"Reconnecting with old friends and classmates separated by distance and circumstance is a pleasure, and it tends to feel more meaningful as the years pass," said Xie. She was in Princeton last month to participate in a reading with six seniors in the Program in Creative Writing at Labyrinth Books.
Bosker has been traveling for her New York Times bestseller, "Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste," since it was published in March 2017.
"It has been a thrill and pleasure to connect with Princetonians of all vintages all across the country, from the Class of ‘48 to the Class of ‘18," she said. "Touring with 'Cork Dork' has allowed me to discover a new side of Princeton." In May, she gave a talk at Ivy Club and she has remained closely involved with Princeton's writing community, serving on the advisory boards of the Princeton Alumni Weekly and University Press Club.
Having returned almost every year for Reunions, Bosker said her 10th is special. "I think there’s an incomparable chemistry that characterizes each class, and Reunions, especially the 'big' anniversaries, reunites this group of people who may not have been together in years."
Alumni-faculty forums address national and international issues
Alumni attended alumni-faculty forums on subjects including the state of health care in the U.S., cryptocurrency, Russian cybersecurity and hacking, and the future of the Supreme Court.
The panel "From Ferguson to Charlottesville: The State of Race Relations in America" in McCormick Hall featured: A. Deane Buchanan, a 1968 alumnus and retired judge, Cleveland Heights (Ohio) Municipal Court; Kneeland Youngblood, a member of the Class of 1978 and founding partner of Pharos Capital Group; Lolita Bucker Inniss, a 1983 alumna and professor of law and the Robert G. Storey Distinguished Faculty Fellow at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law; and Lori Alexis McGill-Johnson, a 1993 alumna and executive director, Perception Institute. Tennille Haynes, director of the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding at Princeton, moderated.
Haynes opened with the question, "What is the state of race relations in the U.S. in terms of realism and action?"
"To quote Dickens, 'it's the best of times, it's the worst of times,'" said Youngblood, an emergency room doctor turned businessman who is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. "I'm an optimist. For the first time in history, we have a black man on the cover of Time, [billionaire] Robert Smith, who has the best investment returns in the world — and is not an athlete or in entertainment. This offers an avenue of hope to kids of color that they don't have to be in sports or entertainment; they can own a team, not play for a team."
Youngblood said he perceives that his six children have greater exposure to peers from different backgrounds and to a global community. “When I look particularly at young people, I see a great deal of optimism." Gesturing to the packed audience in McCormick Hall, he said, "Everyone here, we need to continue to encourage and be supportive of these young people."
McGill-Johnson, whose Perception Institute designs curricula and policies on diversity and inclusion policies for organizations and corporations, said Haynes' question made her recall a recent incident. While her company was in the midst of helping create a curriculum for Starbucks, with thousands of employees "self-directing conversations around race," ABC Television shut down Roseanne Barr's show moments after Barr posted a racist tweet.
"The state of race for me this week felt very powerful in the sense that we've made so much progress of flexing that explicit muscle," McGill-Johnson said. Like Youngblood, she said she is inspired by young people. "What I'm seeing grow in this younger generation is giving me hope ... I'm now seeing young people pushing the boundaries that we haven't seen before."
Haynes then asked the panel to comment on how racism today differs than in the civil rights era of the 1960s.
"I am a child of the Civil Rights Act,” said Inniss, whose forthcoming book is "The Princeton Fugitive Slave: James Collins Johnson." “I think the promise is still there ... that explicit belief, broadly speaking, that social, academic, economic integrations, that those things are good."
This spring the University named the easternmost arch in East Pyne Hall for Johnson, a fugitive slave from Maryland who worked on campus for more than 60 years, first as a janitor and then as a vendor of fruits and snacks.
Recalling her childhood, Inness said, "Thinking about where I came from, in 1965, sitting in the dark, under the desk [at school] because of the riots outside, to, 14 years later, being a freshman at Princeton, it brings tears to my eyes."
More alumni-faculty forums take place Saturday. A schedule of open events and other key content is available on the Reunions 2018 website and the new Princeton Events mobile app, which allows users to:
- Plan your social calendar with the Reunions Schedule of Open Events;
- Check in real time the location of the campus and hotel shuttles;
- Find locations for wristband pick-up, headquarters, parking, restrooms and more;
- View P-rade logistics;
- Access WPRB's live stream of the fireworks soundtrack.
Focus on service: Addressing hunger, literacy and more
Reflecting the University’s informal motto “Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,” several alumni initiatives focus on service. These include:
- On Friday, June 1, alumni and guests were invited to join the classes of 1978, 1983, 2003, 2008 and 2013 to pack meals for Kids Against Hunger. On May 31, these classes also participated in several service projects in Newark, New Jersey, to help low-income children and young adults who have experienced poverty, abuse and neglect.
- The annual Princeton University Reunions Run will take place at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, June 2, on the cross country course at West Windsor Field across from Lake Carnegie alongside Washington Road, sponsored by the Class of 1993′s 25th Reunion. This 5K run/walk will benefit Princeton Internships in Civic Service.
- For their 30th Reunion service project, the Class of 1988 is partnering with guide dog school The Seeing Eye. Members of the class toured the organization's headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey, on May 31; on June 1, in Butler Courtyard, classmates and friends were able to meet puppies and trainers from Mercer County Puppy Raisers, a volunteer group in the Princeton area who train puppies for The Seeing Eye. In addition, Koa, a miniature golden retriever being trained as a diabetic alert dog by Camden Olson, a member of the Class of 2019, was on site.
- As part of their service project, the Class of 1998 has partnered with the Bridge of Books Foundation. They are providing ocean- and science-themed books to children in underserved communities throughout New Jersey.
Reunions festivities will continue through the weekend. Highlights include:
- A conversation with President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Class of 1983, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 2, in Richardson Auditorium;
- The P-rade throughout campus beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday, June 2;
- The University Orchestra lawn concert at 8 p.m. and fireworks at 9:15 p.m., Saturday, June 2, on Finney and Campbell fields;
- Performances throughout the weekend by student groups such as Koleinu, the Nassoons, Old NasSoul, the Princeton Triangle Club, Princeton University Players, Theatre Intime and more.
Alumni, guests, faculty and staff are required to have wristbands for entry to all Reunions headquarters sites for evening entertainment as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Wristbands are not required for attending lectures or performances, watching the P-rade, or attending the concert and fireworks.