When Don Edwards ’64 moved into Silliman College as a freshman in the fall of 1960, a row of storefronts stood opposite Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Over the next two years, the space would be filled by two residential colleges, and Edwards, searching for “adventure,” decided to become one of the first students in the newly built Ezra Stiles College.
This weekend, Edwards returned to Stiles for the college’s 50th anniversary celebration, the first residential college reunion in Yale’s history.
The event drew 250 attendees — ranging from the first Stilesians to recent graduates — who toured the newly renovated college, participated in panel discussions with current and former Stilesians, and reconnected with each other from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. Though alumni were united by their Stiles affiliation, the events consisted mostly of discussions about Yale rather than about the college. Jenny Chavira ’89, Yale Alumni Association deputy executive director, said other colleges will potentially host similar events, adding that Pierson College has tentatively scheduled a reunion for this February.
“One of the things that always bothered me as an undergraduate and right out of college was that at reunions I’d just see classmates,” Mark Santangelo ’91 said. “But [as an undergraduate] I didn’t just sit with my classmates in the dining hall.”
The most popular panel of the weekend was University President Richard Levin’s talk on the future of the Yale, which drew roughly 200 guests. At the event, Levin discussed the partnership between Yale and the University of Singapore in the creation of Yale-NUS College, the development of West Campus and the construction of two new residential colleges, as well as issues in American higher education more broadly. Before he started, he asked attendees whether they had been to a Yale reunion in the past decade, and only about two-thirds of audience members raised their hands.
Mark Elliott ’81 GRD ’84, who said he had never been to a traditional class reunion, noted that the Stiles reunion provided a new opportunity to interact with other alumni in a smaller, more intimate setting.
“I was interested in something a little smaller in scale with the people I knew best here,” Elliott said.
Many of the weekend’s formal events focused on Yale rather than on Stiles, but alumni who came to New Haven still reminisced about their time as Stilesians and Yalies and about national events that defined their college years.
Edwards and Kai Lassen ’64, who lived across the hall from each other, remember coming to the Stiles dining hall one morning in October 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and noting an uncharacteristic silence as undergraduates pored over the New York Times for information on the possibility of a draft.
“We were all 19 years old, or 20, and we knew what going to war with Russia would mean,” Edwards said.
Stiles alumni interviewed over the course of the weekend said their fondness for Stiles and its students brought them back to Yale for the weekend.
Sarah Hsieh ’81 said that while Stilesians might initially feel unhappy with their residential college assignment, they often come to love Stiles’ tight-knit community.
“We were all initially maybe a little disappointed,” Hsieh said. “But from the beginning, all the freshmen that were here were very connected.”
Ezra Stiles Master Stephen Pitti ’91 said the weekend was an opportunity for current students to interact with alumni, adding that he has received several emails from students describing their conversations with alumni at the reunion.
Andrew Goble ’15 said he enjoyed meeting alumni, especially from the first Stiles classes — an opportunity he said students in older colleges will likely never have.
Stiles and Morse College opened in 1962 and are the youngest residential colleges.