COLLEGE REUNIONS THROUGH THE YEARS

       I’ve attended several college reunions over the years. Generally, I’ve gone back

for one at least every decade and made a special effort to attend the 25th which is viewed

as a real milestone.

       Each of these reunions occurred at very different times in the lives of my

classmates and me. And, as a result, each reunion had its own unique character. Our

perspectives toward life changed over the years as well.

       As a student, I vividly remember working at the 30th reunion. Traditionally, the

30th employed members of the varsity hockey team. It was a great opportunity to make

really good money over a very few days of hard work and long hours… setting up the

tents, bartending until all hours of the night, assisting in catering the meals, and generally

cleaning up the reunions grounds.

       But, what I remember most distinctly is how OLD those 30th reunion guys

looked. I remember remarking to a fellow teammate and reunion worker that I couldn’t

imagine getting THAT old.

       Well, it’s happened. We just marked our 45th reunion, and now are hell bent for

our landmark 50th. This is a stunning reality that is really hard to fathom. Where did the

time go? How the hell did we get so damn old… so fast? Just imagine what those

students are thinking as they work the reunion tent where these old geezers are gathered

to renew old friendships and tell lies about the good old days. They must view our tent as

an extension of the natural history museum with its fossils and artifacts from another era.

       Through the years the reunions take on a distinctively different character. From

the younger classes… 5th, 10th, and so on, all the way up to the 40th and 50th. Here’s a

profile of how those different reunions look to the casual outsider:
                                           THE 10TH

       This is the “Horatio Alger Pursuit of the American Dream Reunion”…

       These fellows are newly embarked on their careers. The newly minted MBA’s

have cashed in on their investment in a graduate education and are laboring long hours in

the investment banking firms like Goldman Sachs or slaving away in management

consulting firms like Booz Allen or McKenzie.

       The fresh young law school graduates are now entering the crucial fifth year or so

of practice at huge Wall Street law firms or other law shops in the financial district. They

are sprinting full speed to log as many billable hours as possible to impress the partners

that they should be promoted to the partnership in a few years. They are exhausted and

look like hell warmed over from the stress and ordeal of a corporate law practice.

       Those who headed off on the PhD track toward careers in teaching had labored to

complete their doctoral theses, defend them before a panel of scholars and now were

junior faculty members publishing like crazy lest they perish on their track toward full

professorship and the holy grail of academe, tenure.

       Those who were pre-med in undergrad and slugged their way through four years

of medical school to receive their MD degrees, then labored through a one year internship

followed by a residency. By the 10th reunion, those docs who headed toward surgery or

neurosurgery were still in training and would be until close to the 15th before they could

take on the “attending physician” title.

       The final step for these hard working docs would be the Board Certification step,

the pinnacle of the medical profession. Being Board Certified in neurosurgery has all the

cache the medical profession can offer and definitely is a label I’d insist on if I were in

the market for brain surgery.
       All these 10th reunion classmates look tired, few are married or lead “normal

lives”. They work hard and party VERY HARD. No doubt many have been burning the

midnight oil and their candles at both ends to bank enough credits to be able to take this

weekend off to attend their reunion. Most will be wedded to their BlackBerries and their

laptops through the weekend to log some extra hours covering bases and currying favor.

       There aren’t many children in attendance at this reunion, for the simple reason

that the classmates haven’t had the time or inclination to procreate. They are focused on

their careers to the exclusion of all else, trying to make their mark, get ahead, nail that

promotion and make a ton of money in the process.

                                        THE 2OTH

       This is the “I’m Finally Making It… I’m Reaching for the Golden Ring


       Career is the be all and end all for these classmates. They have hit their stride in

their professions and are working their way up the corporate ladder with promotions. A

large percentage of these classmates are now married and their spouses join in the

reunion activities. There are more children attending this reunion than any other (aside

from the classmates themselves whose childish sense of fun continues into their 40’s).

       These classmates still reminisce fondly about their college days, but the

conversation gravitates toward their business or professional pursuits. Subtle and not-so-

subtle bragging about career successes and family life pervade this reunion. There is

buzzing about the occasional divorce and remarriage, but these are in the distinct


       Name tags are becoming more important for these classmates many of whom

haven’t seen one another for the full 20 years. Even those who don’t have the slightest
clue whom they are talking to will cheerfully greet their classmate with something akin

to, “Hi John. Great to see you again. Everything good with you and your family?”

When John responds that he just lost his job, his parents are both very ill, and he got

divorced the year before, the jolly conversation comes to a screeching halt.

                                        THE 25TH

       This is the “I Want It All, I Want It All, And I Want It Now Reunion”.

       Success has reached quite a number of these classmates in their mid-forties.

There are Executive VP’s of Fortune 100 companies, a sprinkling of CEO’s of Fortune

500 companies, and partners of major corporate law firms, distinguished professors of

major universities, and world class medical experts and researchers chasing the ever-

elusive cure for cancer.

       These classmates have been relentlessly pursuing the golden ring for their entire

careers and some have grabbed it. A few have fallen by the wayside, victims of corporate

or university politics or cataclysmic change in the economy.

       The 25th is celebrated as a right of passage for alums, the passage to mid-life and

mid career. Attendance at this reunion surpasses that of any other of the five or ten year

reunion cycles. The 25th offers a feeding frenzy opportunity for college and university

development offices who bang the drum loudly for contributions to mark the grand


       “Giving back” becomes the relentless mantra of funding raising professionals and

legions of volunteers from the reunion class. Collectively they “put the squeeze” on

reluctant classmates who protest that they have enormous demands on their charitable

dollars and that the university’s endowment is already overflowing with riches. Class
leaders eagerly put the arm on their fellow classmates to make “stretch gifts” to ensure

they set the all time record for 25th Reunion gifts to the university.

                                         THE 30TH

       This is the “Approaching Career Zenith Reunion”.

       For many classmates this reunion might conflict with their children’s own college

graduations. For some that means a new Porsche may be in the future as the tuition(s)

burden is lifted for the first time in many years. That new freedom from the tuition

poorhouse makes these classmates giddy with the joy of seemingly windfall riches.

       Careers are nearing the peak of success, but classmates are less vocal about their

careers and more focused on their families. Some will show off photos of the newest

grandchild/grandchildren. Others will voice quiet complaints about medical issues…

arthritis, cholesterol, hypertension. Some will talk quietly of this classmate or that who

has been “battling cancer”. There are far to many of these stories at every reunion.

       Thirty years out, many families have become much larger, some because of

divorce, remarriage and the addition of stepchildren. The families are larger to be sure,

but they are still loyal Tigers one and all. And, for most, career has taken a back seat to

family and friends.

                                         THE 40TH

       This is the “Winding Down, Chilling Out, and Smelling the Roses Reunion”.

       Many classmates have now retired or at least have moved on from their careers to

“do something else”. Some have transitioned from “jobs” to “hobbies which have

become a full time avocations”. Those who have labored in the executive suites of
American Industry have found solace and great satisfaction in teaching in business or law

school, mentoring those who will be the next business leaders in our country.

       Many have turned their full time attention to charitable ventures: doctors traveling

to developing countries around the world to give free medical/surgical attention to the

poorest of the poor; lawyers offering pro bono legal services to detainees at Guantanano,

federal and state prisoners wrongfully convicted and now seeking release based on DNA

evidence, or taking appointments at neighborhood legal aid clinics to assist poor,

underserved clients with orders of protection, landlord-tenant matters, and protection

from fraudulent loans and contractor rip-offs.

       Others have retired to the golf course or the tennis courts. For them the fruits of a

long career of hard work are a period of Golden Years full country club living… in the

north in the summer months and in Florida or Arizona in the winter. Entertaining club

friends and playing bridge fill out the rest of their hours of R&R.

       Still others commit almost full time to traveling the world. The African safari

which has become almost cliché to retirees is number one on most retiree travelogues,

followed by an Italian adventure in Venice, Tuscany, and surrounding countryside, and

then the obligatory itinerary through Provence with side trips to Nice and the French

Riviera and returning through Paris with a fortnight stay.

       Class memorials have become more important and more meaningful than ever

before. Mortality among this generation for 60-something year olds has taken its toll on

the class. The memorial ritual has become much more somber and personal as

classmates reflect on their friends who died “prematurely” and brood over the ominous

events of years to come.
                                CLOSING THOUGHTS

       At reunions, the annual P-rade, features the Old Guard (the oldest returning

alums) leading the parade of classes by year. A few in their late nineties ride in golf carts

waving weakly at the assembled reunion classes. They are followed by a few using

walkers or handsome carved wood canes with a brass tiger head handles, hobbling along

the path through the other classes.

       The P-rade is a celebration of life and aging. From the youthful class just

graduated, to the middle-aged alums with their young families, to the older alums

marching with their grandchildren, to the true “old guard”, that distant bookend of the

student/alum experience.

       God willing, our classmates will be gathering as the Old Guard for years to come.

The aches and pains and assorted medical issues will become more and more prevalent in

our lives as we creep along toward that revered status.

       We have our 50th dead ahead, and then the 60th before we become eligible for the

Old Guard. I’m in no particular hurry to make it to that stage in life and I suspect I’m

hardly alone in that sentiment. I just earnestly hope that when we line up to march as the

Old Guard, it won’t be a sparse gathering of a few wizened survivors. Rather, make is a

robust corps of stalwart classmates proudly setting a university record for longevity.

       July 19, 2010                              Gerald D. Skoning

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