The Colgate Scene
July 2001
Table of contents
The moments of reunion
by John D. Hubbard
  Reunion is all of these moments: of big events and solitary walks, of golf games and Internet lectures, of dancing in the tents and attending films.

     Reunion is speeches and private conversations, it's bagpipes and revived campus bands, it's bonfires and barbecues, campus tours and receptions at Watson House. When the generations of Colgate gather on campus it is warm, funny, sad, difficult, enlightening. There is singing, dancing, marching (or at least parading) and renewing.

     At the gathering, in five-year increments, is history -- the past recalled with fondness, irony, a dizzying mix of emotions, really. Reunion is not necessarily easy, but it is a good time, and not simply in a kick-up-your-heels sense. Colgate is always teaching us something, and at reunion there is no exception.

     The setting is vital. The campus in full bloom is lovely, and while it has changed, there is the undeniable sense that here is the guardian of our youth, where we flaunted and figured out. What better place to reconcile, to mourn the passing of classmates, as the Class of 1951 does in the Chapel, or to begin to address old wounds, as those who pack the Ho Lecture Room do by viewing The Patriotism of Others: Vietnam and the Boys from Colgate.

     Says the Rev. John Filler '51 from the pulpit, "I hope this reunion of the Class of 1951 will someday include those who are absent," and then Don Stichter reads the necrology, the 95 men who are gone but not forgotten.

     During a Class of 1936 session with Professor of History Andy Rotter, Eddie Haskell says, "There were 225 in our class. Last fall they told us there were 59. Now there are about 42 left."

       "I hope we can do this five years from now," says Jerry Howland. The mood is light, the reminiscences have been happy, spirits soar.

     At the Friday night awards ceremony, where the Class of 1951 is recognized along with winners of the Wm. Brian Little '64 Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, Maroon Citations and Alumni Corporation teaching and young alumni awards, Tom Walbridge '51 speaks to Colgate on behalf of his classmates. "We thank you all for wonderful memories of a great place."

     The following day, at the all-class luncheon, Virg Conway '51 presents President Karelis with a check for $4,341,975, the second-largest gift ever by a class celebrating its 50th anniversary.

     "We did it," says Conway, "We did it and it's all for Colgate. It shows what the Class of '51 thinks of alma mater. We love it."

     Classmates from 1966, Lou Buttino and Robert Aberlin are producing a documentary they hope will help to heal the wounds of Vietnam. Combat veterans sit down with war protesters; in fact, Buttino had opposed the war and his roommate Brian O'Donnell was a gung ho Marine. It cost them their friendship, but at a service of prayer and reflection Lou says, "I love you, Brian" and it is received.

     Down at Oak Drive, just as the parade is set to push off, Verne Norton gives a yell for the Class of 1931 and grabs classmate Daniel Swan and there they are, beaming.

     Hal Lahar and his wife Dottie are honored guests, invited by "his boys," many from the Class of 1956. The affable football coach both laughs heartily and wipes away his tears as players from the '50s and '60s thank him for all he'd done.

     Tony Aveni is speaking to a packed house. He is sharing tales from 30 years of teaching and taking students into the field. "You have to work overtime to make the classroom interesting," says the professor of astronomy and anthropology who makes it seem so natural and effortless.

     "I know you." She's from the Class of 1976, he's from 1971. That's not it. "I was on the staff here for awhile." No, not that either. "Wharton?" Yes! Small world.

     Bob Otterbourg '51 talks about switching careers. Bruce Knecht '80 reads from his yachting adventure, The Proving Ground. Michael Johnston, professor of political science and director of the Center for Ethics and World Societies, speaks on "The Best Politicians Money Can Buy." Assistant Professor of Economics David Sturges asks, "Is the Stock Market Irrational?" Ellen Kraly, professor of geography, lectures on "The Closing Doors of Ellis Island." Alumni Memorial Scholar Andrea Suarez Falken '03 discusses her research abroad and offers a spinning class. A panel of alumni physicians provide their viewpoints on assisted suicide.

     Jeff Kleiser '76, who began his work in the computer center in the Coop basement, shows clips of his visual effects produced by Kleiser-Walczak Construction Company.

     There's more. Golf, tennis, kids' reunion (pizza and pool parties!), low ropes course, readings by novelist Fred Busch and poet Peter Balakian, an exhibition, Another Cusp, in the Clifford Gallery curated by Gregory Volk '81, fraternity and sorority meetings, a gathering of the clan in the new Thirteen House at 13 (of course) College Street, the fun run, an alumni row, class banquets and information sessions aplenty on Colgate today.

     In the end, there really is something for everyone. Reunion is far more complex (and interesting) than a circle of tents on Whitnall Field. At its best it is a compression of the undergraduate experience. At its purest it is about people, the marvelous ages of a university all together in the place where they were young.

     Time moves and Colgate is swept along with it, but there is something eternal, or at least recognizable, for all in this valley.

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