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Reunioning Up a Storm

Survived Reunions, I think. [Checking body parts...wallet...bloodstream...] No major gaffes other than the roughly 275 times I had to stare at someone's name badge before realizing it was a dear, close, life-long friend.

At one point I asked a classmate, Stuart Rabner, what he does for a living.

"I work for the State of New Jersey, in the office of the Attorney General," he said.

Something pinged in the back of my mind.

"You ARE the Attorney General, aren't you."

He smiled affirmatively.

I was on a panel with alumni from the classes of '07, 1982, 1957 and 1932. The gentleman from 1932, Jack Kellogg, who is now 97 years old, said, "I remember the day the market crashed. We lost a lot of classmates who had to return home to take care of their affairs." Yes, that would be October 1929. He told us of the Reunions at which alumni dragged a table into the middle of the Lincoln Highway -- now Nassau Street -- and played a game of poker at 2 in the morning while N.J. state troopers directed traffic at either end of the table. The rest of us on the panel should have retreated to the audience to listen to his stories. We didn't even get a chance to ask about his classmate Jimmy Stewart.

I talked briefly of our own pre-technological existence circa 1978-1982 -- how we were completely unwired, living in a culture of serendipity. How we hound-dogged around campus, sniffing out trouble. Advanced technology at that point was an answering machine, but I didn't have one, and most of us communicated entirely face to face (which meant, for example, that for four years my Mom couldn't reach me). We did not anticipate the degree to which technology would reshape our lives, any more than we anticipated the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

At one point someone in the audience mentioned the days when an honorary degree had to be delivered by Pony Express. No one mentioned the days when students had to know Cuneiform or be fluent in Sanskrit.

I managed to persuade two of my kids to come to Reunions. Their job was to stand there and be admired. Kids are basically a form of bling. It's all part of the tally of achievement. Unfortunately, my girls turned out to be willful, and precocious, and had minds of their own, and did not see themselves as inert objects, and were soon gamboling all over campus. I can say with confidence that at several points during the weekend I knew where they were and what they might be up to, approximately.

At Reunions you perceive keenly the dimension of time. You have abundant visual evidence that life is a long march, but perhaps not as long as you'd like. Life comes at you fast, as they say in the TV commercial. There are all these young people running around to serve as reminders of your younger self. And there are the graybeards to show you what you'll become. At the Charter Club I ran into a guy who was at his 55th Reunion. He said he'd gone to the chapel to hear the reading of the names of classmates who had passed away since the 50th.

"I was relieved when I didn't hear my own name," he said.

Survival: Maybe that's enough of an ambition.

[Click here for my long-ago NPR commentary on looking good at Reunions.]

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 4, 2007; 6:43 AM ET
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