Kudos to Mike Feagley, Rick Nicita, the Reunion committee, and Wesleyan’s Reunion and Commencement machine for so effectively putting together our 50th Reunion. For me, both the planned events and the unplanned events combined to allow for many memorable moments and meaningful encounters.
The planned events included, especially, Friday morning’s innocuous sounding “continental breakfast.” At that event, in a room on the second floor of Olin Library, Howie Foster (that rare quarterback who becomes a psychoanalyst) proposed to the group of 20-25 that we collectively address one of four questions. I don’t remember all four questions, but it doesn’t matter, as we didn’t really address them. We did, however, have a lively and engaging discussion about the meaning of a Wesleyan education, about whether Wesleyan had become too left and far out to attract students it should be attracting, about whether Wesleyan was no longer as committed to real diversity as it should be, about why Amherst and Williams and even Bowdoin and Trinity have done better than Wesleyan on various ratings, and much more, until we were kicked out of the room so they could set up for the next event (I am sure conversations about these issues continued throughout the weekend).
The planned events also included a memorial service for those of our classmates who have died, a session conceived and planned by Brooks Smith, Peter Kovach, and Ted Smith. Peter opened the gathering with a poem. Ted read each of the 37 names on the college’s list of those of our classmates who have died. For about half the names, one classmate or another had prepared to speak for a minute or two and did, and then he or Peter dropped a piece of glass into a large glass bowl (a Kovach-inspired eastern ritual). For the other names, there was either a moment of silence, followed by Peter dropping a piece of glass into the large bowl, or someone spontaneously rose to speak about that person (as the Quakers say, moved by the inner spirit). So there we went, alphabetically, remembering those who died long ago, a while ago, or more recently. Andy Ackemann…Jim Branigan…Myron Kinberg…Henry Regnery…Andy Ullrick… The remembrances were moving, thoughtful, and sometimes funny (he set a chair on fire and threw it out the second floor window of Clark Hall?).
There were many seminars taking place on campus. One of my favorites was given by former faculty member, Leslie Gelb, who went on to work in various high-profile jobs, including writing for the New York Times and president of the Council on Foreign Relations, about why those who conduct our foreign policy continuously make mistakes (Gelb was introduced by Professor Emeritus Karl Scheibe). Another was a panel on political dysfunction with three knowledgeable and impressive Wesleyan alumni, one of whom was Senator Michael Bennet ’87. Yet another was a panel discussion about Hollywood featuring (our own) Rick Nicita and Professor Jeanine Basinger.
The planned events also included three dinners, all set in choice locations—the Thursday night dinner in the Patricelli ’92 Theatre, the Friday night dinner with the president (“Dinner with the President! Dinner with the President”—see Woody Allen’s Bananas for the reference) in Beckham Hall, Fayerweather, and the Saturday night dinner in Olin, overlooking the football field.
But it was the unplanned events that led to many memorable encounters. I was a bit late to one of the seminars, and by the time I arrived it was so packed that I couldn’t get in. I got a cup of coffee and sat down at a table in the Usdan Center, and over the next hour, old (and getting older) friends wandered by, stopped and sat down, and we caught up—John Neff ’66, Dave McNally ’66, Dave Garrison (there was one that got away—I saw across the room, but did not get to talk with, Harry Shallcross). It was like sitting in Downey House in 1965 or 1966, killing an hour in a most enjoyable way, talking with whomever walked by after they got their mail.
My favorite comment? “I climb trees for a living” (but, Jerry Smith went on to say, even though he climbs trees for a living, his Wesleyan education has enriched his life in many ways).
My favorite outfit? At the Saturday night dinner, blue seersucker jacket, bow tie, shorts, leather shoes, black socks (Sandy Van Kennen ’66).
As those of you reading carefully have noted, there was a crew of guys from ’66 hanging around. They had such a good time last year at their Reunion that they came back this year for more (the three I have mentioned, and, also, Larry Carver ’66 and Rick Crootof ’66). It was great having them there. Also floating around the periphery on Saturday were Sandy See ’68, and Rick Voigt ’68, in part to attend the annual meeting of the Mystical Seven, but also to do some preliminary planning for their 50th next year.
It is quite a production, preparing all these Reunions AND Commencement on the same weekend. I always leave these events in awe of Wesleyan, a class act, in awe of Wesleyan alumni in general (who give such good seminars, and ask such interesting and informed questions in such an articulate way), and in awe of my classmates for all kinds of reasons.
Richie Zweigenhaft | firstname.lastname@example.org