The origins of
organized reunions are generally traced to an alumni dinner hosted
by Pres. John Maclean, Jr. in 1826 on Commencement Day, which
at that time was held in the fall. Shortly thereafter, Maclean
also announced the formation of the Alumni Association of Nassau
Hall, naming James Madison, Class of 1771, as its first president.
Commencement exercises were eventually moved to June, beginning
in 1844, and the Alumni Association meeting and class reunions
also moved as well.
Following the Civil War alumni coming
to Commencement Day took part in "an ordered procession to the
place of their dinner meeting." While enjoying their dinners,
guests listened to a variety of alumni speeches.
By the turn of the century, Reunions
had become a robust convention that began as long as a week before
Commencement. Admission was restricted to alumni. Families were
invited to watch the Princeton-Yalebaseball game, a rivalry that
began in 1868. The Saturday afternoon game became the focal point
of reunions, and as alumni attendance grew, occasional classes
would hire a band to lead their group to the playing field.
Reunions also marked the beginning
of class gifts. At its tenth reunion the Class of 1859 endowed
a senior prize inEnglish, and at its tenth, the Class of 1860
founded a graduate fellowship in experimental science. When the
Class of 1866 observed its decennial, it gavethe College the clock
in the cupola of Nassau Hall.
By the 1890s class reunions at Commencement
time had become fairly numerous. They were modest affairs at first:
meetings held in classrooms in old Dickinson Hall or Nassau Hall,
followed by a dinner in University Hall or the old Princeton Inn.
Stimulated by an alumni torchlight procession at the Sesquicentennial,
which brought 2,000 alumni back to Princeton in 1896, attendance
at reunions grew and programs became more elaborate, sometimes
lasting two or three days. Houses were rented to accommodate class
members, bands engaged for their entertainment (and to welcome
classmates arriving by train), and various means of identification
gradually adopted -- class banners, hatbands, blazers, and costumes.
Later, beginning in the early 1950s, headquarters and sleeping
quarters were provided on the Campus for most major reunions.
Class Reunion Costumes
The "major reunion classes" (the Fifth,
Tenth, Fifteenth, etc.) draw a significant number of their classmates
for two and three day gatherings featuring a variety of activities
and meals, as well as class costumes or uniforms. For the younger
classes, these uniforms are often fairly inexpensive informal
garments appropriate to the reunion theme. However, at the time
of the Twenty Fifth reunion the class adopts a more formal jacket
which usually is worn for the remainder of their years.
Few class decisions
prove to be more controversial than the design of the class jacket.
Very early it became the custom for
each class to have a major reunion at five-year intervals following
graduation. For these occasions alumni have made a determined
effort to return to Princeton even from distant places. In between,
at the ``off year'' reunions, a smaller number keep the pilot
The twenty-fifth reunion, when most
alumni have reached the peak of their careers, has come to be
regarded as the most important of all, and the twenty-fifth year
Class has accordingly been given the place of honor at the head
of the Alumni Parade. The Class of 1942 also returned a Nassau
Hall bell clapper it had stolen in their freshman year, and, having
had the clapper split in two, gave half to the golden anniversary
Class of 1917 and half to the then-graduating Class of 1967.
The fiftieth has come to be another
big reunion. There is usually a large turnout of septuagenarians
who step out briskly when the Alumni Parade leaves the front of
Nassau Hall. One alumnus, Dr. William H. Vail 1865, walked fifty
miles to attend his fiftieth, reaching the campus just in time
to join his classmates in the Parade to and around University
Field -- ``the last mile.''
The Class of 1887's sixty-fifth reunion
dinner at Merwick, Bishop Matthews's home on Bayard Lane, was
attended by five of the seven living members of the class and
several relatives. It started out rather sadly, when one man noted
that classmates had begun to drop off soon after the fiftieth
reunion and that by the time the sixtieth came two-thirds had
gone. Bishop Matthews served some excellent Burgundy (the class
historian recorded) and spirits gradually lifted. Banter and jokes
followed, and one of the sons present was moved to compliment
himself on having picked '87 for his father's class. Toward the
end of the evening, following more stories and reminiscences,
one man exclaimed that if President McCosh were present he would
say that 1887 was the greatest class that ever graduated. Then
after a few seconds' reflection, he wryly added, ``as he said
of every Class.''
The sixty-fifth is usually the last
major reunion, although there is on record at least one later
one. In 1967, two members of the Class of 1897, Paul Bedford and
Leander H. Shearer, sat down together in the lobby of the Princeton
Inn and there received a formal visit from President Goheen on
the occasion of their seventieth reunion.
Click for the reunion
Jackets and costumes gallery
Order of the P-rade
In addition to
the large numbers of class members returning, the importance of
the Twenty Fifth is also evident in the Order of March of the
P-rade, the grand processional march through campus that is one
of the highlights of reunions. The Grand Marshal and two flanking
marshals begin the procession, following by the University and
American flags borne by incoming senior class officers. They are
followed by the President of the University, theChair of the Board
of Trustees, the President of the Alumni Associatio, and the Chair
of the Committee on Reunions. Behind them comes the Princeton
University Band announcing the arrival of theTwenty Fifth Reunion
Class, which heads the P-rade and marched into the front campus
through the open Fitzrandolph Gates.
After the Twenty
Fifth has passed, the alumni march in reverse chronological order,
beginning with the Oldest returning alumnus, who also is given
the honor of carrying the Class of 1923 Cane, followed by the
Old Guard and then each class in order, until after the 26th Reunion
Class. The Graduate Alumni march in the processional at this point,
then the 24th, 23rd, etc., until finally the senior class joins
the long line of alumni passing the review stand.
While a member
of the faculty and during his presidency of the University, Woodrow
Wilson 1879 attended all of his class's reunions. In 1914 he came
up from Washington for his thirty-fifth, but in 1919, because
he was in Paris for the Peace Conference, he was obliged to send
his regrets to his classmates when they gathered for their fortieth.
``I shall miss what would be the greatest possible refreshment
to me in meeting the boys then,'' he cabled his friend and classmate
Robert Bridges a few days before the reunion, ``and so I beg that
you will give them the most affectionate messages from me and
tell them how cheering it is to me always to think of their friendship
and of the old days we spent together.''
'05, clergyman and perennial Socialist candidate for president,
rarely -- if ever -- missed a reunion of his class. ``Some things
in life justify themselves emotionally, without necessity for
analytic reasoning,'' he once said. ``On the whole, Princeton
reunions fall in that category. In my moralizing moments, I may
regret that reunions are too greatly inspired by the prayer: `Make
me a sophomore again just for tonight,' which prayer, with the
aid of a sometimes excessive consumption of the spirituous, rather
than the spiritual, often seems to be granted.''
days are extended. In 1969 thirty classmates topped off the Class
of 1939's thirtieth reunion by flying to Russia. There, according
to the New York Times, they gave the first rendition of ``Old
Nassau'' ever heard in Moscow University.
Even more distant
duties than Wilson's in Paris have kept a class notable away.
In 1973 astronaut Charles Conrad, Jr., sent word to his reunion
chairman that he could not be present at 1953's twentieth because
``he was out of town on business.'' He sent his message from the
country's first space station, Skylab I, to the Johnson Space
Center at Houston, which relayed it to Princeton.
Class Attendance Awards
As with many other colleges, the 25th
and 50th reunions exert considerable pull on alumni to return
to campus, and this is indeed so for Princeton classes. A review
of attendance records indicates that over 60% of a class may attend
the 25th, and a figure in excess of 70% is not uncommon for 50th
year classes. But such loyalty is not the exclusive province of
these two watermark years, for recent reunions have also seen
over 45% of the first year class returning, and close to 50% of
a class for the Fifth and over 40% for the Tenth, with numbers
well exceeding 30% for the major reunions. In addition, each of
the Off-Year Classes is also represented, so it should come as
no surprise that well over 10,000 alumni and their families descend
upon the campus for the weekend prior to Commencement.
In 1912 the Class of 1901 gave a
silver cup to be awarded annually to the class having the largest
proportion of its living members present at a reunion. Attendance
of winners has ranged from 52 percent (the Class of 1919 at its
fiftieth) to 77.3 percent (the Class of 1898 at its twenty-fifth).
The winner in 1916, the Class of 1866, had 18 of 27 classmates
present at its fiftieth reunion; their attendance percentage was
especially appropriate and pleasing to them: 66.66.
Other awards were begun in the 1930s: the
1921 plaque for the greatest number at a major reunion, the Class
of 1894 bowl for the largest percentage at an off-year reunion,
the Class of 1915 cup for the greatest number at an off-year reunion.
Another one was begun in 1967: the Class of 1912 trophy for the
largest percentage present at the reunion of a class graduated
more than fifty years.
Portions from Alexander Leitch, A Princeton
Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).