This is virtual Princeton Reunions weekend, the second year of the pandemic in which the annual orange and black cavalcade is virtual. Reunions, like Hanukah and the Olympics, are the slightly weird friend who comes to your house, each year in a new shape and size, and fires up memory and old stories, only to leave when you’ve had your fill and in so doing, leaving a slight ache for the next return visit.
I’m skipping the virtual Reunion, as it’s both an off year and the thought of blurry backgrounds won’t replace the regalia and familiar places that make Reunions fun for me. I relish that chance to be 20 and 30 and 50 all at once, made much harder when we can’t compare our joint-impaired gaits with our peers to feel less old in the place that doesn’t age.
I’ve dusted off and edited this piece from three years ago.
“Steaming hot and sunburned and emptied of emotion, I got lost and had ample time […] to ponder why this simple, almost simplistic ritual, this near-archaic tribal rite, had moved me so deeply. I came to no conclusions. It seemed to me then, lost on that campus itself lost to time, that it was simply a right and good thing to honor something you loved very much as loudly and wholeheartedly as you could, and the devil take sophistication, civilization, undue examination, or whatever else threatened to get between you and it.”
— Anne Rivers Siddons, writing of a “Princeton Reunion” in “John Chancelor Makes Me Cry”
Late afternoon sun hits the tigers between Whig and Clio Halls just right, illuminating them as captured in poet William Blake’s words. I’d rushed past those tigers hundreds of times, usually going between the U-store and class, or my dorm room in Foulke Hall and class or Colonial Club, and for a few rare nights one fall semester, between them lugging a bag of bagels as the Wednesday Night Bagel Man. I never really saw them, then, as an undergraduate, and certainly not with a few moments to appreciate their grandeur, like so much else of Reunions weekends. I have that feeling every time I step into Baker Rink, where for years I would look at the Hobey Baker display with a bit of undergrad ennui, after all, what was the big deal about a pair of hockey skates and some wooden pucks with scores painted on them? Only after I came to appreciate Hobey Baker, and later Patty Kazmaier, and was able to visit the memorials to both of them in Baker Rink did I see them as the connections to those very tribal rites that started with those years on campus.
Thirty three years later, Reunions is still fun. The annual alumni parade — the P-Rade — takes on some new angle or impact. Long-term keeper of Princetoniana Freddy Fox once called it “watching your life in reverse”, and it is, but folded up around your own perspective. You watch the Old Guard pass by, mentally calculating their ages and how much closer you’ve gotten to them this year, then you march through the remaining classes and your age remains fixed in time if not space, while the cheers get louder and lustier as you move through the younger returning classes. The P-rade seems to get shorter each year, as you march earlier and earlier, and even though you are going through progressively larger classes to your junior side, it still takes about 20 minutes to finish the route.
This year  I was appreciated of my repaired right knee, which let me stomp around campus and march up and down the parade route (twice!) without much pain or swelling. Rather than thinking of them as “old,” I found myself thinking that the Old Guard were in fact guarding the fun of Reunions. As Sev pointed out, the oldest returning alum had seen members of the Class of 1865 march in his graduation year P-Rade, marking 152 years of alumnae that he had seen, from oldest to youngest to oldest again.
Each year I venture back, I find myself discovering some new facet of Reunions or campus that had previously been just one more thing overlooked or hurried by. One year it was discussion panels; one year it was finding the basement of the Frist Student Center; this year it was a hat trick of discovery — the location of “Lower Hyphen” (a/k/a where the pinball machines were below the Pub), white flowers placed on the 9/11 memorial outside of East Pyne (where I took a moment to think about classmate Karen Klitzman ‘84), and on a lighter note, an invitation to the hill where Princeton hockey players of all ages and stripes watch the procession. And that is, in a nutshell, what makes the long-running orange and black weekend fun — a chance to rekindle old friendships and connect with people whom you’ve met electronically post-graduation through something other than classes, organizations or clubs.