Reunited: Princeton alumni return to campus for the first in-person Reunions since the start of the pandemic
The hugs were stronger, the laughs louder and the energy a lot bigger for Reunions 2022.
Coming back to Princeton was even more momentous for alumni than in years past. This year’s celebration is the first to be held in person since before the coronavirus pandemic. Reunions in 2020 and 2021 were convened virtually. The last on-campus Reunions were held in 2019.
“I think the symbolicalness of this year — the first Reunions back — makes it even more special,” said Andrew Sun, Reunions co-chair for the Class of 2017. “It’s nice to be able to bring everybody back together safely and re-engage them in the magic that is Princeton.”
Approximately 25,000 Princeton graduates and their guests descended upon campus for Reunions, running Thursday, May 19, through Sunday, May 22. Among other precautions, all visitors were encouraged to take a COVID-19 test and receive a negative result prior to arriving to campus (PCR within 72 hours or rapid antigen within eight hours).
This year, 124 “Old Guard” members returned, including two of its oldest members — 107-year-old Joe Schein, Class of 1937, who came from New York City to lead the P-rade, and 103-year-old Rev. Donald Fletcher, Class of 1939 and a 1951 graduate alum, who lives in Voorhees, New Jersey.
Graduates came from all over the nation and globe to join lectures, tour old stomping grounds, survey Princeton’s latest construction and additions, take in a variety of live music and events — but mostly, to connect with old friends and acquaintances.
“One of the things about being at Princeton is that you have an allegiance to Princeton University, but more so to your class,” said Jim Robinson, the 50th Reunion co-chair. “Classes have distinguished themselves in many ways.”
Robinson and co-chair Fritz Cammerzell said the Class of 1972 is very close-knit, having raised significant funds and supported scholarships and student-facing initiatives, among their many contributions to the University. Its members also have taken more than 25 trips together since 2004 to locations including Gettysburg, Washington, D.C., Paris, Prague, the Galapagos Islands, Cuba, and even Mount Princeton in Colorado, where 36 of the 56 people in their party summitted.
“I think we left our mark,” Robinson said. “We’re pretty proud.”
The Class of 1972 has another distinctive place in the University’s history as the last all-male class admitted to Princeton, and the first to have female graduates, who joined as transfer students.
Daryl English, one of the 64 women admitted as a transfer student to the Class of 1972, said most of the women arrived as juniors and seniors, but because they were spread out across classes and campus, it is only in recent years that they have connected more deeply and reflected upon their experience.
“Most of us didn’t know each other,” she said. “To have been here at a time of great social unrest in the background and great transitions at Princeton, we did not have a sense of ourselves as pioneers at the time.”
She added, “It’s gratifying to bring this back now and share it among ourselves.”
Samm Lee, Class of 2022, joined the Class of 1972 — her year’s grandparent class — for a social mixer on Thursday afternoon. She took time to speak with the class members about their experience, which also occurred during tumultuous times, but one that was far different from hers.
“It’s really interesting to hear how the University has changed,” she said. “It’s an interesting moment of reflection.”
The Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni (APGA) celebrated both the old and new at its Reunions. Kim Howie, who earned her master’s degree in urban planning in the School of Architecture in 1978, gave a gargoyle tour called “Princeton’s Architecture: It’s in the Details.”
APGA also held several events highlighting its affinity groups, including a drag show co-hosted with Princeton BTGALA and a dance party with its Asian American, Latino and Black alumni groups.
Alumni-faculty forums look to the future
In addition to the many parties and concerts held “under the tents” during Reunions, there were opportunities for learning and intellectual engagement.
Alumni-faculty forums addressed many critical issues facing the world today including energy needs, climate change, the state of journalism, and racism, among others.
A session held on Friday examined “The Future of Food: Sustainable Agriculture in the Technology Age.” Panel members led by Ijeoma Nwagwu, assistant director for academic engagement and campus-as-lab initiatives in the Office of Sustainability, discussed the intersections of health, technology and food systems (the web of activities encompassing how food gets from farm to table).
Nwagwu was joined by Amy McCann, Class of 1997, CEO of Local Food Marketplace; Brandon Hall, Class of 2002, managing director at BlackRock; and Christina Badaracco, Class of 2012, a healthcare consultant and dietitian for Avalere Health.
The group acknowledged that the reliability and vibrancy of food systems is critical not only to sustain life, but also for overall health and wellbeing, and for economic vitality. The coronavirus pandemic has only heightened this awareness with its obstructions to supply chains, they said.
“We see local, sustainable food systems as being a really critical component of managing risk around those kinds of disruptions we have been experiencing,” McCann said.
Hall, who advises financial and public sector clients, especially in regard to climate change and energy transition risks, said experts working in those areas have woken up to the importance of these risks within the past five years.
“The financial sector, in general, today is aware and recognizes its own role, and the importance of its role in trying to channel various forms of capital to sustainable agriculture,” he said.
Badaracco, author of “The Farm Bill: A Citizen’s Guide” (Island Press, 2019), shared examples of legislative and ground-level initiatives that are helping to sustain food systems while addressing related issues including health, sustainability and social justice.
More alumni-faculty forums take place Saturday. A schedule of events and other key content is available on the Reunions 2022 website.
Focus on service: Coming back and giving back
Several classes used their Reunions to take on service projects. The Class of 2012 is encouraging fellow alumni to help raise funds for Razor Sharp, a Trenton barber shop that has been an integral part of past Community Action activities.
Every year, Razor Sharp hosts a Labor Day back-to-school block party called “Labor Day of Love” and offers free haircuts and school supplies to struggling families. The fundraiser will support the purchase of 100 to 150 backpacks full of school supplies.
The Class of 1987 and their guests worked together to make no-sew blankets for Project Linus to donate to children in need.
“I’m glad they have a project like this throughout the weekend,” said Cara Hackley of Rochester, New York, daughter of Donna Hackley, Class of 1987. “It seems right to give back.”
Reunions festivities will continue through the weekend. Highlights include:
The P-rade throughout campus beginning at 2 p.m., Sat., May 21;
- A conversation with President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Class of 1983, at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, May 21, in Richardson Auditorium;
- Performances by student groups including Fuzzy Dice, Koleinu, Princeton Nassoons, Old NasSoul, Roaring 20, Tigerlilies, Wildcats, Princeton University Ballet, Princeton Triangle Club, Quipfire!, Theatre Intime, Princeton Katzenjammers, diSiac, Shere Khan, Tigressions and Footnotes;
- Exhibits in Firestone Library, Mudd Library, Stokes Library, Art@Bainbridge, Art on Hulfish, Maclean House, and Bernstein Gallery in Robertson Hall; and
- The University Orchestra lawn concert at 8 p.m. and fireworks at 9:15 p.m., Sat., May 21, at Princeton Stadium.
Alumni can visit the Reunions 2022 website for the full schedule of events, for registration information — pre-registration is required this year before arriving on campus — for check-in locations to pick up wristbands, and for parking and transportation information.
Events information also is available for Reunions registrants through the Princeton University Events App, which can be downloaded through the iOS App Store and Google Play.