Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Princeton Reunions, the long-form version

I now own a Princeton sweatshirt that I didn't own 24 hours ago. Carried around my umbrella on Friday. Not much needed. Left it behind on Saturday. It poured. I was cold. So I bought a sweatshirt (my friend's idea -- he bought one first -- I copied). It helped me fit in better into the sea of orange and black. I really liked Princeton. College was a lot of fun, I met a lot of great people, and, while I totally feel like I would have enjoyed it wherever I went, and a lot of why I enjoyed my college experience has nothing much to do with Princeton itself, I absolutely feel like it was a great place to go to school and I have no regrets at all about having gone there, and nothing but positive feelings about it. That said, I just can't get as wrapped up in the whole Reunions thing as most people do.

I feel like saying "college reunion" evokes images of a rented hotel ballroom and people in semi-formal wear with nametags and finger food. Which isn't at all what this was. It's an event. We were told there were twenty-one thousand people there -- I'm unsure if that's the number of alums or the total number of people (spouses and children included). Most wore some combination of orange and black. Some brought pets wearing some shade of orange and black. One woman (at least one woman) dressed up her two dogs in Tiger costumes. At graduation, each class gets a Princeton beer jacket -- a black and orange jacket with some garish design involving the numeral of the graduating year. Every five years, your class votes for a "theme" and a jacket design -- and you get a new jacket (and t-shirt, and hat, and whatever -- all unwearable outside of Princeton's campus, and all designed as a fundraiser, as if the endowment isn't big enough already). My class's theme was Nascar, which is somewhat hard to explain, since I'm not sure the Nascar fan base and the Princeton alumni population have tremendous overlap. But Nascar sounds like Nassau, Nassau Hall is Princeton's oldest building and still in use... so Nascar 500 becomes Nassau 500 and... yeah, this is what people spend energy on. We also have class officers that get elected every five years. The election was contested. I don't know why I find it really hard to care about this stuff. I like Princeton. I liked going back and seeing people. I don't care if our "theme" was syphilis (justification: the last part of syphilis is phylis; phylis sounds like the word philosophy; Princeton has a good philosophy department; hence the theme syphilis) and we have no class officers to decide where to get the cookies with the orange and black sprinkles or the orange and black striped layer cake (both really things we had at dinner) or the orange sherbet with blackberries (not a thing we really had, but sounds good and maybe we should have -- maybe the officers we elected will get on that for our tenth reunion in 2010).

Despite my lack of eagerness to wear orange and black -- full disclosure: the shirt I wore on Saturday did have some orange in it; but it wasn't an "orange shirt" per se. It was a striped shirt with some orange -- I had a good time. Despite the rain. Which I was fortunate enough to basically avoid. Every year there's a P-Rade on Saturday (that's like a Parade, only without the first vowel). People walk, by graduating class, down the Princeton campus, carrying banners and stuff like that. It starts with the 25th reunion class, and then goes in order from the ancient to the modern. Like watching auto racing, part of the spectator appeal of the P-Rade is seeing if any of the old people will perish en route. Naw, not really. But it's cool to see very old people dressed in orange and black riding in golf carts, and then, after a few of those, you get to the people trying to walk, and then the people who can sort of walk, and then once you get to the people for whom walking really isn't that big a deal it ceases to become too interesting. So this thing lasts from one in the afternoon until about four-thirty, since 21,000 people is a lot of people. As my class got to the end point, the sky began to open up and we ran for cover under some newly constructed concrete awning.

A pause while I talk about construction on college campuses. Like you can count the rings on a tree to see how old it is, I feel like I can count the number of new buildings to figure out how many years I've been out of school. There's a whole new cluster of buildings at one end of the campus; they're tearing up the middle of campus to build new dorms; two of the four dorms I lived in have been renovated since I left; there's centers and plazas and nooks and crannies that didn't exist five years ago. There's a part of the University Store now called U2 that's open longer. There's a new student center. There are new stoplights. There are new sculptures and pathways and arches and benches. And this is five years out. I can't imagine how this must seem to people who graduated fifty years ago. It can't possibly even look like the same place. I mentioned to someone that I remembered when Scully (the first dorm with air conditioning, built my sophomore year, I think) was new, and he looked at me like I said I was there when the Egyptians built Stonehenge (I told you I liked Princeton, but I didn't say anything about the quality of the education :). There's nothing that can make you feel older than realizing they're already renovating buildings that didn't even exist last time you noticed.

So I found myself under some concrete structure that never used to be there. This moment, 5:00 on Saturday afternoon, marked a moment of Reunions that I thought there'd be more of. I had the one and only kind of conversation I was fearing. The "I haven't seen you in five years, what have you been up to" conversation. I've written about this before, but I did a relatively crappy job after high school of keeping in touch with friends, and really didn't want the same thing to happen after college (although as I look back on it I realize I'm now in touch with the people from high school I'd want to be in touch with, and, to a greater extent than I realized while in college and thinking about how I did a relatively crappy job keeping in touch with people from high school, I made better friends in college. Talking generally not specifically, I like the friends I made in college more than the friends I made in high school. Whether that's a function of the person I started to mature into in that time or a function of the high school and college populations or a combination of those factors I'm not sure). So I'm pretty good about being in touch with people I wanted to keep in touch with. Not perfect, and there are definitely people who I wish I was in better touch with, and where I've dropped the ball or they've dropped the ball at some point in the past five years, but for the most part, no, this is something I pay attention to and really try to be good at, because I like my friends and don't want to have to find new ones. Because people aren't fungible goods and if there's someone I like knowing and spending time with how can it really ever not be worth the effort. We meet a limited number of people we connect with and even though it sounds hokey to say this, I feel like it's kind of precious to hang on to those connections and sad to lose them. Actually, I shouldn't say "we" necessarily. Maybe some people meet a lot of people they connect with, and do feel like friends are fungible. I might argue those people are shallow, or at least lacking some introspective quality perhaps. Maybe lacking a soul, I don't know. I think that slurpee I got at 7-11 earlier today may have been laced with something -- this paragraph has somehow gone from being about concrete to something else. Oh well. You can skim.

Okay, so where was I? Under the concrete structure. Then I ran to another awning, in front of a building that may or may not have existed when I was a student, but I know I was never inside it (it was a science building). And then the skies opened. And as the more recent classes finished their P-Rade march, they ran for shelter. And this was really cool to watch, sort of. People running for cover, running from the rain. It sounds terrible to even admit thinking this, but it looked a lot like the 9/11 television scenes of people running from the twin towers, except they weren't covered in dust. But they had fear in their eyes -- fear that their orange and black costumes would get wet -- and were fleeing across an open field to uncertain shelter. So we waited out the storm and then headed over to our assigned tent for dinner.

The tents are something other schools do too, I think. Big tents, a band playing, "free" cheap beer (nothing was really free after paying the lump sum bracelet fee). The previous night, the tent was really crowded. It's impossible to find someone you know, in a sea of orange and black, at night, in a crowded tent. Cell phone was useful. Anyway, dinner featured the orange and black cookies and cake, and was fine.

Following my friend's lead, I went to the university store to get a sweatshirt, because it was cold. Lots of people were doing the same. Sweatshirts and umbrellas. The cashier told the guy in front of me that they sold more sweatshirts and umbrellas that day than the rest of the year put together. That seemed like hyperbole, but who knows. Also, it thus seemed like a dumb move to have half the stuff in there be on sale. I would have paid full price for a sweatshirt, and assumed I'd have had to, but there was stuff that was 50% off. Why? Why, on the weekend when 21,000 people come to town, many looking to buy anything orange, black, or orange and black, would you have a sale? You're just costing yourselves money. It didn't make sense.

Just in terms of dormitory construction, I'm a little jealous of the students there now. They've built new buildings and renovated others. There are buildings with air conditioning. There are buildings with windows that look out on nice courtyards. And they're renovating more stuff and buildings more stuff... my freshman year I lived in a one-room double that was 150 square feet, I think. I got along really well with my roommate, but it was small. Someone told me at some point that the rooms on my hall, back in the 1800s, had been servant quarters. But when they were servant quarters, one person lived there. One servant, but two freshmen. (Yes, this entire paragraph was designed to lead up to this joke. It wasn't worth it, sorry.)

In any case, I didn't actually feel that old being back for a five-year reunion when there were all these people back for their tenth, twentieth, fiftieth reunion. And it ended up being just a cool couple of days hanging out mostly with people I would hang out with anyway in a non-reunions context, so it was fun.