I write this sitting in a Starbucks near my home, having driven the 158 miles from Haverford College late morning.
The formal part of the reunion, the 45th of our class, ended with dinner last night, that coming after several other events
– one of our lass getting an award for helping the College in fundraising
– having a session with a number of faculty members from our time at Haverford, only one of which is still teaching
– getting together with the parallel class at Bryn Mawr (there were a number of marriages, and in some cases, subsequent divorces, between the two classes)
– a reception and then the class dinner.
Throughout the weekend there were conversations, and reflections.
And at dinner, some people got up and offered some thoughts, no one being required to speak, but more than a dozen of us did, in some cases continuing the reflections from our session with the faculty earlier that day. It ended as it usually does, singing a couple of songs, for us traditional – So Long, It’s Been Good to Know You, and Irene, Goodnight – after all, our time in college overlapped with the folk revival, and more than a few of us played and sang then, and some still do.
Those of us still on campus filled a long table for brunch this morning, with conversation still continuing.
As I drove home, and since I arrived, my mind has been reflecting on the weekend.
Roger Lane, our Bancroft winning History professor (now retired), offered some observations about our class, things that in many ways made us unique, perhaps as memorable as any class in the history of the College.
We entered a college that was less than 500, but which was in the process of recognizing a need to expand. There were a number of new, young faculty members, who had begun relatively shortly before our arrival, or in Roger’s cases, arrived at the same time as we did. As one of the other professors noted, they were not graduates of Haverford as a significant number of those who taught us were.
It was a time of change in academics. Haverford had committed to change its biology department away from being purely a pre-med preparation (although we have our share of doctors) to a focus on micro-biology.
Most of all, it was a time of change in society, and also in the College community. Bob Sinclair of our class became the third African-American at the college, the only such in our class. We had no Hispanics (we did have two from Japan, both of whom later represented that country as Ambassadors on its behalf). We arrived on campus only weeks after the August 28, 1963 March on Washington (an event in which a few of us, myself included, had participated). We saw the expansion of the war in Vietnam, and the consequent protests against that war. Some of us did go into the military, a few voluntarily, some more through induction. Others were Conscientious Objectors, a few went to Canada.
Others found other ways of serving post-College – I had not realized how many had been in the Peace Corps until this weekend (and despite my having left the Class after two years I may know as much about it and its members as anyone). Some others served in Vista, the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps.
But we also saw changes in attitudes about lots of things. TO describe it as a period of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll is true, but only a partial description. It was time when the young faculty persuaded the College not to release grades and class rankings – those of our age may remember that as Vietnam heated up you could only keep your 2S exemption if you were in the upper half of your class. That change made our athletic teams ineligible for NCAA post-season competitions, but we were not alone in that – that was true of the Ivies as well, beginning with the 66-67 school year.
It was a period of time where students asserted and were granted far more personal freedom.
And it was a time when many of us were not quite sure what we were doing, either then or as we headed to live after college.
We learned yesterday that the class had the lowest average GPA of any class in the College’s history. That did not mean that we had not learned, in some cases in great detail, the subjects we studied.
There is something else. We may be more connected as a class than any which has followed us. I could see the difference when I returned as a 25 year old junior in 1971. Almost all of us had lived in the same dormitory, and that proximity led to a level of bonding that is less evident on a whole class level in more recent times.
The college was of course much smaller then – it now over 1100, more than half of whom are female. Since Bryn Mawr remains all-female, the ratio of available females is certainly much greater than in our time!
The old dining room in Founders Hall was not large enough to seat the entire college of less than 500 at a time. You had to fill in the tables as you arrived. That meant that by the end of first semester you had probably sat at a meal with more than half the other students in the college.
It was a small enough place that the President might well know your name, even were you not outstanding in academics, athletics, or behavior (positively or negatively). It was a very much a face to face community. Now many students live at Bryn Mawr through the exchange.
The administration was far leaner. The College had just split the duties of the Dean’s office between the academic dean and the dean of students. The admissions office consisted of only a handful of people all graduates of Haverford. Security was almost non-existent. Times have changed, legal responsibilities of even a private college now require a substantially greater proportion of staff in administration, admissions, security, and services.
We learned about lives and losses of lives: one of our classmates had not come bcause of the relatively recent loss of a spouse. We have classmates who have lost children, in some cases through violence. Others have had spouses die.
Too many of us perhaps have broken relationships, some more than one. Although our proportion of divorce is still significantly lower than that of the general population.
I am not alone in changing the focus of my life, in my case from computers to teaching. One person has recently begun to work in stained glass. Another decided a number of years out of College to be an artist. Our class organizer (we actually have no formal officers) has himself had multiple careers. George has worked for a major public official in the past, supported himself as a musician (he is a superb banjo player), served as alumni secretary of the College, worked in the garment business, and late in life went to law school
Some are now “completely retired” – and working harder and with more enthusiasm than ever before.
We joked that some would never retired because they enjoyed what they did, some would never retire because they couldn’t afford it, with a number of people falling in both categories.
I have missed two of our previous get-togethers. I attended the first, our fifth reunion, while I was a junior. I have had regular directly contact with only a few of our classmates since I moved to Virginia in 1982. There are several that live near me whom I encounter in different capacities. There are some others with whom I perhaps talk on the phone or exchange correspondence, electronic or in dead tree version, not as many as perhaps I should.
One thing about our gettogethers is that we reconnect with old friends, and form new relationships coming from our shared experience of a place and a time, even if we were not close when we were at Haverford.
Some of those who could not attend sent long emails to the rest of us.
Although we will certainly lose more of us in the hext five years, we are already planning for our 50th – next time we want more than half the class, as many as we could get.
Two people who could not attend joined us by video conference.
For myself, I know that the relationships with faculty has had a significant impact upon who I became and how I live. I would argue, and said so yesterday, that the connection with the classmates both then and over time was just as influential, although I certainly did not realize it at the time.
For most of us, it was the first time we were in all our classes surrounded by people who might not only be our intellectual peers, but in some cases and some fields our superiors. Yet we might be that for them as well.
Our professors were very different than what we had in the most cases experienced from teachers, although a few of us had perhaps had one or two teachers who had challenged us the way we were challenged in our years at that small college.
As I look back at more than 6 decades of life, there are a few institutions that have shaped me, none more so than Haverford College. Certainly that is in part because of the nature of the College – explicitly Quaker then, with us required to attend Wednesday Meeting for Worship four times per semester. It was perhaps less well known then, but as highly respected among those who knew about it. It was then and is now a challenge to be admitted, more so now. It is certainly far more diverse than it was in our day. We perhaps had a higher percentage of students of Jewish background than any previous class, and a significant number of the younger faculty were Jewish – people like Aryeh Kosman in Philosophy, Harvey Glickman in Political Science, Sid Waldman in Psychology immediately come to mind (and Aryeh and Sid joined us yesterday).
There is in the Quaker approach to the world an insistence on focusing on the individual, perhaps easily seen in the idea from George Fox to which I so often refer, the idea of walking gladly across the earth answering that of God in each person we meet.
Some of us are explicitly religious. We had a rabbi, we still have a Presbyterian Minister (who did racial reconciliation work in Africa), and one of our members was today going to be the officiant at a Quaker wedding near the college. Some are overtly atheist, some simply don’t care about religion per se. We have some who are conservatives, one (like me a former Marine) who is very much libertarian, and people whose politics run from the center to the far left.
Those political and religious differences somehow do not serve as barriers among us, but rather serve to help us perceive other ways of experiencing the world: after all, we still have our common bonds of Haverford, our shared heritage of that time and place, and the worlds we have experienced since then.
This is Memorial Day weekend. Although a number of us did serve militarily, we lost none in that kind of combat.
We went more than two decades before our first class member passed. Since then the numbers increase, and as the years pass and we advance from our sixties to later ages our numbers will inevitably thin. We have classmates who have survived heart attacks.
I miss some of those who have passed who were part of that experience. I have participated in memorials for the two men who were the music department when I arrived on campus, John Davison (himself an alumnus, class of 1951) and Bill Reese.
But I treasure these occasions when we again connect.
I stayed in a small dorm room in Lloyd Hall. There was a narrow bed, a desk with a bookshelf, and a wardrobe. There was little room to move around. The room was smaller than some monastic cells in which I have stayed, both in this country and in Greece. Looking at that bed, it is amazing to think how often such furniture would be shared in sleep and otherwise with one’s girlfriends!
The campus has changed over the years – new building, other buildings refurbished, their uses changed over time.
Still, it is very green, sufficiently buffered from the surrounding community to provide a sense of its own community without being isolated.
Most of all, it is a place of persons, one that for the 4 dozen or so of us who came for the reunion, a place that helped shape us – it was our community, it remains so in some ways, and reconnecting with place and persons was important.
Looking back, I am not quite sure why Haverford took a chance on me, not just once, but even allowing me back as a 25 year old junior with an unimpressive academic track record to that point.
I am not alone in that feeling.
And yet, we are a remarkable group of men.
We are now all in our sixties.
Some memories are gone.
We are different physically, some larger some thinner.
Yet we are recognizable to each other.
And in encountering each other we also remember ourselves, as we were, and to some degree in how we have become what we are today, and what we might yet be.
On Wednesday my department will hold a reception for my retirement.
Now all I have to do is figure out what I want to do when I grow up.
That is a process that started for me when I arrived as a freshman at Haverford in September of 1963.
It continues even today.
So does Haverford as part of who I am.
And for me Haverford is not only place, but also people.
Especially those other then boys, now men, of the Class of 1967.