What is going on when 314 lookalike members of a gigantic crowd, and 235 of their spouses or partners, gather under a huge tent and do things like wave big white handkerchiefs around while singing? It’s an Ivy League reunion, of course — at a men’s college.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I accompanied my husband to the 50th reunion of his class at Yale. The class of ’62 was among several having reunions during a three-day weekend earlier this month, and Yale certainly knows how to stage them. But I kept asking myself who these men were and why Yale means so much to them.
Chris had accompanied me to a reunion at Douglass College 16 years ago, but I could hardly say it was a similar event. I had been lured to attend by being asked to be on a panel about working women. There is really only one friend from my days at Douglass whom I have kept up with, and those I would have hoped to reconnect with didn’t show up. The big moment came when I reminded Reiko Fukiyama that she used to try to play my position as well as hers in field hockey, a sport I never got a handle on but was obligated to take part in for some reason having to do with Douglass’s being a state school. Chris and 313 others had more meaningful bonds.
That’s what was so astonishing. In the first place, a fairly large portion of the class returned for this 50th reunion. In the second, any doubt that these men — all around 70 years old — were cut from the same oxford broadcloth was graphically dispelled when they all (well, 99 percent of them) appeared in tan pants and blue blazers. My guess was that, although they had to differ politically and economically, they were more alike culturally than I could have imagined.
Fifty years ago, Yale was a school for white men. Of the 1,000 or so who matriculated in the class of ’62 about 850 are still alive), only two were black. Asians were nowhere to be seen. Students got a traditional liberal arts education; hardly anyone majored in the sciences, and many, perhaps most, went on to graduate school. Some retained allegiances to the underground societies they had belonged to as undergraduates, and lawyers and doctors and academics were well represented. A not-so-small cadre had remained Chris’s friends all these years.
Never mind that the weekend offered dozens of lectures and panels, as well as opportunities to tour Yale’s museums and early-20th-century Gothic buildings (which I think are hideous). For me, the weekend’s best part was making the acquaintance of a number of accomplished and down-to-earth class of ’62 spouses, and by the illusion that everyone who went to Yale in my husband’s day sings.
I joined a group who rehearsed and sang at a memorial service. My husband was among a big batch of former glee club members who entertained at dinner one night. The class of ’62’s Whiffenpoofs were part of another evening’s entertainment, highlighted by his classmates David Finkle and Bill Weeden, who became a legitimate cabaret act after college. And then there was the singing of “Bright College Years,” which I gather is Yale’s traditional alma mater, with the waving of those white handkerchiefs at the last words, “Where’er upon life’s sea we sail: For God, for Country, and for Yale!”