Here’s a letter I recently sent out to my college class in anticipation of our fiftieth class reunion:
I guess this won’t be your typical class letter. Usually in advance of a big reunion, we get nostalgic mailings from classmates urging us to return to campus to re-live, at least for a few hours, those halcyon days of precious memory. That’s quite understandable; those four years we spent together constitute one of the most formative periods of our existence, and for many, they were some of the best days of their lives.
But what, if you’re someone for whom the College was not all that you’d hoped it might be? What if your bright college years weren’t all that bright and beautiful? What if the College wasn’t a very good fit for you? Should you come to a landmark reunion wondering whether you’ll stand out for having a nostalgia deficit, worried that you’ll spend the entire weekend asking yourself, ‘What am I doing here?’ I’m writing to say come — come despite your mixed feelings and persistent reservations.
Why have I been showing up at our class reunions? I could simply tell you that these are warm, affirming, non-competitive, open-hearted gatherings of good people who ‘knew each other when’ and who are genuinely interested in getting to know you better now. All of that is true. But I think it might be helpful if I said a little more, shared something from the heart. This part’s not so simple; speaking personally always gets a little complicated.
I’ve never been all that fond of my college experience. I’ve often looked back on those days and wondered what was wrong with me that I didn’t feel more at home, that I didn’t fit in better, that I didn’t make friends so quickly and so deeply as others around me seemed to do. Some of it had to do with me and my own development. And some of it had to do with the circumstances I found myself in. I didn’t relate well to an all-male, highly regimented, fairly isolated place, and, by the time I understood this, it seemed almost too late.
I tried to put up a good front, but inwardly, I felt trapped. I decided to make the best of it and plunged into academics — offerings that were certainly there in rich array for us all. What saved me, however, was spending my junior year in Paris, an experience that turned out to be the polar opposite of my first two years in college. I will always be profoundly grateful to the College for opening that door in my life.
I almost didn’t come back from Europe for our senior year. In the end, I dutifully returned, tried to overachieve, suffered a collapsed lung, and came close to walking out of our Baccalaureate Service when the preacher ended his sermon exhorting us all to serve in Vietnam. (I would have walked, but by the time I’d screwed up my courage, they’d moved on to the Nicene Creed, and it didn’t make much sense to walk out on that!) As it turned out, I was grateful to the College for launching me directly into a wonderful graduate school experience, then on to an unlikely, fulfilling career, and ultimately into a life that has been blessed and, if not every-moment happy, still often enough filled-to-brimming with joy.
I tell you all this because I suspect there are others who look back on our college days with a similar mixture of ambivalence and gratitude. I’ve found that you can feel conflicted in this way, then go to a class reunion and discover that you’re not out of place at all. The spirit of the thing is wide enough to encompass those for whom the College was the best of times and those of us for whom it was decidedly a mixed bag. The institution, of course, has changed drastically since our day — in so many ways in the right directions. And we’ve changed, too, over the past incredible fifty years that have taken us from John F. Kennedy to Donald J. Trump.
It will be good for us to get together in June. I sincerely hope you’ll join us, especially if you’ve had some doubts about showing up. Come — you’ll be surprised and pleased.
Ed Dufresne ’67