We are family: Princeton alumni connect across the generations at Reunions
They came with generations in tow — parents and grandparents, spouses, partners, children and pets — all donning their orange finest, from video-game inspired costumes to treasured class jackets. Approximately 25,000 Princeton alumni and guests are on campus for Reunions 2019, which runs Thursday, May 30, through Sunday, June 2.
Returning classes ranged from the “Old Guard” — including members Joe Schein, Class of 1937, coming from New York City to lead the P-rade, Norm Carter, Class of 1938, who will make his annual visit to campus from his home in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, and Don Fletcher, Class of 1939, from Voorhees, New Jersey — to recently minted alumni from the Class of 2018.
Many graduates came from as far away as Dubai, South Africa, Ecuador, India, Hong Kong and Australia. Among them was Laura Janda, Class of 1979, who lives in Tromso, Norway, where she teaches at UiT, the Arctic University of Norway, the northernmost university in the world.
Janda said her 40th Reunion will give her a chance to reconnect with her Princeton family, as well as her two daughters, who live in the United States. Her hosts for her stay are family members of her former professor, Charles Townsend, professor of Slavic languages and literatures, emeritus, who died in 2015.
Janda said she was especially excited to join a special tour of the Rocky-Mathey kitchens, where she worked as an undergraduate.
When asked what she was looking forward to most at Reunions, Debbie Scott Williams, a member of the Class of 1984 and former national board chair of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, gave a laundry list of meetups: a first-gen/low-income alumni reception, the Department of African American Studies Mix & Mingle, the Award for Service ceremony (she was a 2014 recipient), and the Association of Black Princeton Alumni reception.
When in doubt about where she’ll be, Williams tells friends to meet her “under the tent” for the 1984 class year.
“There are so many things to do,” Williams said. “Planning is part of the excitement of ‘going back.’ You have to limit yourself.”
As a member of the steering committee for THRIVE: Celebrating and Empowering Princeton’s Black Alumni — a gathering of black Princetonians scheduled for Oct. 3-5 — Williams hopes to have conversations around planning for the event.
The myriad ways in which alumni come together is on full display at Reunions. Each year, the 50th Reunion class acts as the “grandparent class” to the graduating class of current seniors. This year, the Class of 1969 is hosting the Class of 2019 for a special reception.
Alison Shim, who will be graduating on Tuesday at Princeton’s Commencement, said it was nice to see how her soon-to-be fellow alumni showed so much care toward her class.
“Seeing how much other alumni love Princeton makes you ready to be alumni,” she said.
This year’s 50th Reunion class is ready to pass on its legacy on an even grander scale.
After its 25th Reunion in 1994, the Class of 1969 launched the Class of 1969 Community Service Fund, a paid summer internship program that grew into Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS). Over the years, PICS has funded more than 1,500 Princeton student internships at nonprofit organizations worldwide.
“We were sort of a countercultural class, having spent our years at the University dealing with things such as Kent State, the height of the Vietnam War, the race riots in ’67, so we were already disposed toward doing alternative things,” said Chuck Freyer, class treasurer and chair of PICS. “It appealed to a large segment of our class.”
Summer Hanson, Class of 2016, has quietly been creating her own legacy, bringing with her to Reunions each year a small kit she created to help reduce garbage. Inside is a reusable cup, container, utensil and napkin, all of which fit inside her Reunions jacket.
This year, her effort is reflected in a larger Greening Reunions sustainability goal to reduce, reuse and recycle. All alumni are encouraged to bring their own cups, mugs, utensils and plates. For those staying in the dorms, a housing credit was given to anyone bringing their own linens.
Hanson’s items have been great conversation starters when meeting people, she said. “It’s something I do in my everyday life,” said Hanson, owner of Seattle-based Eco Collective, which sells sustainable alternatives to everyday items.
As a student in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Hanson had internships in climate policy and worked at Princeton’s Office of Sustainability. “I’ve always been aware of environmental issues and wanted to do my part,” she said.
Alumni-faculty forums explore issues of today and tomorrow
Alumni are attending alumni-faculty forums on subjects including developments in medicine and neuroscience, political divisions, inequality, the #MeToo movement and immigration.
The panel “Artificial Intelligence: Catastrophe or Opportunity?” in McCosh Hall was moderated by Elad Hazan, a 2006 graduate alumnus, professor of computer science and co-founder of Google AI Princeton; and featured Matthias Blumrich, a 1996 graduate alumnus and senior research scientist for NVDIA; Mimi Chen, Class of 1979, co-founder of VoiceSell; and Otis Jennings, Class of 1994, vice president of engineering at IvySys Technologies.
The panelists discussed the enormous potential of AI technologies, particularly in education. Blumrich pointed out the possibility of instant translation during seminars, allowing people from different parts of the world to learn from one another.
“The opportunity for AI in education is wonderful,” Blumrich said, highlighting its potential as an “interactive teacher.”
They also cited revolutionary applications in health care, autonomous vehicles and prosthetics.
One audience member asked how privacy would be affected by the use of AI. Jennings said the concept of privacy already is being redefined, particularly as the public participates in various types of social media and uses apps with increasing frequency. “When you download an app, do you read the fine print?” he said.
The panelists agreed that ethical questions, such as how to tell if something is fake, will continue to be asked as AI is developed.
“Even when it comes to art fakes, you have to drag in experts,” Chen said. “And sometimes even the experts can’t tell because the technology is getting better and better.”
The panelists said the best defense against misuse of AI is the same as it is for any technology: an educated and concerned public.
“The question is, are people going to get really upset about it and want something done about it,” Blumrich said. “But if they do, it’s going to be at the consumer end, where things really have to change.”
More alumni-faculty forums take place Saturday. A schedule of events and other key content is available on the Reunions 2019 website and through the Princeton University Events App, which can be downloaded through the iOS App Store or Google Play.
The app allows users to:
- Plan your social calendar for the weekend;
- Check times and locations of campus and hotel shuttles;
- Find locations for wristband pick-up, headquarters, parking, restrooms and more;
- View P-rade logistics;
- Access maps, speaker bios, exhibit information, evening events, tours and more.
This year’s Reunion coincides with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Open iftars are being held in the evenings by Princeton’s Muslim Life Program, which has hosted Ramadan on campus for the past decade.
Focus on service: Addressing a range of community needs and priorities
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:
• From noon on Thursday, May 30, to noon on Sunday, June 2, the Class of 1974, in cooperation with the Pace Center for Civic Engagement and the Get Set program of Trenton’s Westminster Presbyterian Church, is collecting school supplies for the Trenton Public Schools at the Class of ’74 Reunions site in Holder Hall Courtyard. Princeton and tiger-themed school supplies from the U-Store are especially welcome.
• Alumni packed meals for the Kids Against Hunger food relief campaign from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on May 31 at Dod-McCormick Courtyard. The effort was sponsored by the classes of 1979, 1989, 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014 and the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni.
• Princeton University Reunions Run 5K (PURR 5K) to benefit the Prison Teaching Initiative is scheduled for 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday, June 1, at West Windsor Fields. Is it being sponsored by the Class of 1994.
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 1, in Richardson Auditorium;
- The P-rade throughout campus beginning at 2 p.m., Saturday, June 1;
- The University Orchestra lawn concert at 8 p.m. and fireworks at 9:15 p.m., Saturday, June 1, 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 Ballet, diSiac 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 for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Wristbands are not required for attending lectures or performances, watching the P-rade, or attending the concert and fireworks.