I used to worry more about the weather at Denison—particularly on commencement and alumni reunion weekends. I don’t so much any more (a good thing, since as a professor of history, I’m great at telling you all about the weather yesterday, but I’m little use at all at forecasting it for tomorrow). It took me a few years to learn that great annual occasions in the life of the college are not defined by the weather but by people and the relationships between them.
Denison Reunion Weekend 2011 was sunny and temperate but, more important, as reunion weekend always is, it was about friendships. Every year, reunioners reminisce with old friends, but they also discover new ones—classmates with whom they’d had little contact five or fifty years ago, who now share life experiences that make them interesting and supportive companions. I’ve learned something from my own experience with college reunions over the years. Over time, we loosen up and become more approachable to others. We become more and more comfortable in our own skin. As the years pass, reunion participants have richer life stories to share and fewer images to burnish.
Friendships also cut across age groups at reunion time. One of the best decisions we’ve made in recent years was to include the fifth and tenth reunion classes in our late spring event rather than inviting them to return separately in the fall. Reunion attendance among the “young” classes has never been better. Maybe the time of year is just more convenient, but I’m also convinced that the more recent classes find their time enriched by exposure to those who passed through Denison before them, sometimes long before them. It’s inspiring to discover first-hand that one is part of a long and living history of graduates.
And then it’s clear that our current students are a hit with returning graduates. Dozens of them serve as aides during reunion weekend, attending to registration, driving golf cart shuttles, and doing a hundred other things to make the weekend go smoothly. But what graduates tell me they most enjoy about these young people is the opportunity to learn directly what today’s Denison students are like and how they experience the college. Our students love this time with graduates, too. They relish hearing accounts of how Denison “was” for those who preceded them. Sometimes they even make contacts who open doors to internships or job interviews.
I’ve learned—through 13 Denison reunion weekends—all about the hold that this special place has upon our graduates. And why not? It’s where adult life began and where many lifelong friendships got their start. What the place evokes, of course, are memories about fellow students, professors, coaches, and others who made the Denison experience what it was. So, in some ways, even place is about people.
This year, I was more than a casual observer of alumni reunion weekend. While I did not complete my undergraduate degree at Denison, I was a member of the student body for one full year in 1967-68. Accordingly, my mates of the Denison Class of 1971 were back on campus for (gulp!) their 40th reunion. My wife Tina and I enjoyed visiting with so many men and women of the class. With some, I remembered experiences in what was then just-completed “New Men’s Dorm” (now Shorney Hall). With others, I shared memories of freshman year on the men’s soccer team and of Coach Ted Barclay. And we could all give accounts of classroom experiences with now-emeritus faculty members whom I see about Granville regularly—treasured professors like Dom Consolo of the English department, Ron Santoni from philosophy, or Ron Winters from physics and astronomy.
Altogether, what makes Denison’s reunion week- end so memorable is the balance that is played out between past, present, and future. It is made up of memories of people and places but also of new friendships and experiences. It involves graduates becoming acquainted with and appreciative of today’s students and the current campus. And, in important ways, it’s about the future. Graduates supporting the college financially, through volunteer work, and simply by sharing their pride in it are advancing educational opportunities for Denisonians yet to come. After all, what did we do the week following reunion? We welcomed members of the Denison Class of 2015 to June Orientation.