This Memorial Day weekend, I return to New Haven for the Class of 1989’s 30th reunion. This will be my sixth class reunion. And because my wife is a member of the Class of 1988 and I have accompanied her to several reunions, I can safely say that I have been to at least ten Yale reunions. So, why do I return to campus for these events? Why reunions?
When I was a junior, more than 30 years ago, I distinctly remember a group of alumni who had returned to campus for their 10th reunion knock on my suite door in Davenport and ask if they could see their old room. And I distinctly remember thinking that these guys were old and pathetic. Didn’t they have anything better to do than wallow in nostalgia?
Recently, a classmate told me that he worked reunions while he was an undergraduate and recalls feeling something like pity towards those “old folks” who were coming back for their 30th reunion. As I walk through campus, I try to imagine what the current undergraduates think of us; the class of 1989 is to the class of 2019 what the class of 1959 was to my class.
Before this reunion, I was speaking with one of my old roommates, and he asked me who was I most excited to see at our reunion. Of course, we both agreed that we were excited to see our group of close friends. But the person we both agreed we were most excited to see was not among our closest friends. Rather, it was someone who we both enjoyed bumping into in the dining hall, someone who was funny, creative and interesting, but someone who we no longer regularly see.
I will not mention him by name for fear of embarrassing us all, but this person is why I return to campus for reunions. Not him specifically (although I am excited to see him), but whom he represents — all of those interesting, creative, funny, witty people I had the pleasure of bumping into in the Davenport dining hall. Never before and never since my time at Yale have I had the simple pleasure of walking into someplace and be guaranteed to find so many people with whom I could easily share a meal and a good conversation. I marvel at the sheer randomness and spontaneity of it all.
So, why do I return for reunions? Of course I enjoy spending time with my close and dear friends. But part of it is to try to recapture — to reignite — those random and spontaneous encounters with people I bumped into in the dining hall so many years ago. Reunions offer an opportunity to recreate the magic of the dining hall. Those funny, freewheeling, often provocative discussions with a group of people we may not have realized at the time we were so fortunate to share a meal with.
A brief word on randomness and spontaneity. In the dark ages before social media, emails, texts and mobile phones, the dining halls encouraged these chance encounters. Without reliable or instantaneous communication, we did not necessarily plan to meet anyone for a meal; we often just showed up. Not only do undergraduates today lack any need to just show up in the dining halls, but fewer of them are living in the residential colleges and eating in the dining halls in the first place.
According to the News, more than 40 percent of all seniors and nearly 25 percent of juniors are living off campus. Whether this trend is good or bad is beyond the purview of this column, particularly because each generation of Yalies gets to write their own chapter. However, I cannot help but think that they might be missing out on the unexpected joy of these unplanned encounters.
The randomness and spontaneity of the dining hall, filled with funny and fascinating friends, may never be fully duplicated. But we can still find joy in the random conversations or spontaneous encounters among our classmates. For me, this is the reason why I still come to reunions.
Jay K. Musoff ’89 is a co-chair of his 30th reunion committee and co-chair of Loeb & Loeb’s White Collar Criminal Defense and Investigations Group. He is a former Publisher of the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.