The Whiffenpoofs sang at the White House for President Bartlett on NBC’s political drama The West Wing. On May 29, they will get the chance to sing for the real American president — and hundreds of members of the Yale College Class of 1968.
Plans were finalized this week for President George W. Bush ’68 to host the class of 1968 at a special White House picnic dinner on the Thursday before reunion weekend. Yale has tentatively chartered a special Amtrak train to transport alumni from Washington, D.C., to New Haven, class reunion chair Bill Baker ’68 said.
“Those alumni that I’ve spoken to seem extremely receptive,” Baker said. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the White House.”
With the current war in Iraq, the invitation addressed alumni concerns about how the conflict may affect plans for the White House reunion. Included was a special note saying that the event is subject to potential cancellation if unforeseen circumstances arise.
“One never knows what might come up at the eleventh hour, so that’s a risk we take, but we hope it doesn’t happen,” Baker said. “We’re not anticipating that it will.”
Discussions about the possibility of a White House reunion event began in the fall, Association of Yale Alumni Executive Director Jeff Brenzel said. Yale Corporation member Roland Betts ’68 said he approached Bush after class members started to express interest in the possibility. He said Bush was excited about the idea from the beginning.
“We are hopeful that 1,000 people will come,” Betts said. “It went around the class as a rumor and it was very well-received.”
Class members will be allowed to bring one guest. Brenzel said attendance at regular reunion weekends normally ranges from 20 to 50 percent of the class, but that it is highly variable.
Yale President Richard Levin said this is the opportunity to have a White House class reunion that did not happen with former President George Bush ’48.
“We haven’t had a graduate of Yale College in office during a reunion year,” he said. “We’re excited. I think it’s certainly great for Yale to be an institution associated with the last three presidents and four of the last six.”
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 set a precedent for such events when he invited his Georgetown classmates to the White House in 1998 for their 30th reunion. U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73 also hosted the Wellesley College Class of 1969 reunion at the White House.
Brenzel and Baker both said it was hard to determine whether alumni might choose not to attend because of disagreements with Bush’s policies.
“I just don’t know because we haven’t done something like this before,” Brenzel said. “I can’t say how the classmates might respond.”