Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Class of 1996

Somewhere in the mix of kindergarten registration or graduation, second grade talent shows and award ceremonies, those of us who graduated from high school or college in the 1990’s are feeling the tug of our own academic past. It’s reunion season and we’re heading to a midpoint: if we were 18 or 21 when we graduated, it’s been nearly as many years since. A lifetime before—and a lifetime after.

I was thinking about that as I walked the campus of a school I didn’t even attend, but one that is now a part of my life: my husband’s alma mater, Princeton. I went to his fifth college reunion as his date. We pushed a small stroller through rain, mud and hay at his tenth. And at his fifteenth last week, he pulled our two girls in a red wagon as offspring of other members of the class of ’96 , stir crazy from long plane trips or car rides, made unannounced head dives into our kid magnet to join them.

Forget renting a convertible, if you want to make an impression at your fifteenth, bring a Radio Flyer.

Not that anyone was trying to make an impression. Most of us were just hoping to find some shade and refill our sippy cups. The kegs that would flow freely at night had not yet been tapped but there was water and Sprite and plenty of tables to string-your-own necklace (orange and black beads) or decorate your own foam visor.

My husband took us on a walk to find his freshman dorm, which was, we discovered, no longer there. But we found his old roommate and, best of all, his young daughter who reassured my six year old that being a Daisy next year would be just great.

The next generation was blooming at this 15th. They sat "crisscrossed apple sauce" or on their knees on the grass of a quad to watch a “Mad Scientist” hold dry ice. They rushed to create their own orange polymer, aka, goo, as if silly putty were a banned substance in their own homes. (Which, I learned, it should be.)

Princeton holds a weekend of Reunions, and like the alumni magazine that arrives every week, they reflect a connection between the school and its graduates that mystifies my non-Ivy eyes. Other schools have loyal alumni who give money or who follow a winning football team across the country to fill a stadium with school colors. But Princeton’s Reunions are said to be the “most well-attended college reunion in the world.” They are also, according to Wikipedia, the second largest single order of beer.

And nothing is quite like the parade through campus in order (generally) from oldest to youngest alumni, known as the P-rade.

As we gathered for this year’s P-rade, and my husband perhaps daydreamed about the blizzard of ’96 when he cranked out his senior thesis, “Options Under a Jump Diffusion Model of Stochastic Stock Price Volatility” my theatre major mind was thinking of the Seven Ages of Man.

“The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side”

The old-timers rode in on golf carts, honored for who they were and for what they represented, a living link from the past to the future. A man from the class of 1935 passed by us. He, too, had once celebrated his fifteenth reunion. That would have been in 1950.

Just before him was the class of 1986, bumped to the front because it was their 25th, the year they get their distinctive blazers. Was this Shakespeare’s third age, a soldier, or the fourth, the justice? I do not know.

But, my jaw, at least in my mind, dropped.

They walked down the path, some in their spotless blazers, some in preppy (re: 1986) rugby styled shirts, salt and pepper hair, teen aged children at their sides, strolling, walking, needing to prove nothing. No rush to tend to a crying toddler, no diaper bags weighing down their shoulders, no wondering who they were or where they were heading. They had arrived.

They made me less sad that I felt a lengthening effect of time; that the person who’d eaten a falafel sandwich from Hoagie Haven while watching her husband’s fifth reunion P-rade was fading into a past and fifteen would soon become twenty, and then in a moment, twenty-five.

Age in this parade was marching by me, and it looked good.

Not every reunion arrives in such context. They are usually isolated and not in progression. They’re not a literal line of history and connection to one place and school.

It was a reunion to see people. But the truth is Facebook lets us stay in touch with the acquaintances of our past.

It was mostly a reunion with a place of metamorphosis, the place where the juvenile became the young adult. The graduate, like an orange and black creature following an instinct, comes back once a year throughout the ages of its lifespan to feed upon some fountain of tradition. And then, it heads back into the world.  

1 comment:

Tim Morrissey said...

This is a wonderful post, Sarah, but your concluding paragraph is simply stunning. What great writing!