Monday, June 21, 2010

Guest Post: Lisa of "Privilege" On Her Princeton 25th Reunion

Note: This post was supposed to have been posted on Monday morning.  Unfortunately, it did not make it out as scheduled, which is entirely Reggie's fault.  Here it is:  

Privilege” has long been one of the blogs that I check in to regularly to follow the writings and observations of its author, Lisa.  I was initially drawn to her blog by her description of it being the musings of a High WASP, with a point of view that such a vantage point provides.  However, what keeps me coming back for more is that Lisa doesn’t only focus on the “glory days” of our shared people's heritage, but rather looks forward, embracing change—as we all must—while honoring the past.  It’s a good combination, I think, and something Lisa does with grace and humor.
One of the pleasures of blogging is that it provides the opportunity to exchange views with and occasionally meet fellow bloggers and commenters.  Recently, in planning a business trip to California, I realized that I had a spare evening in San Francisco, where Lisa lives.  So I contacted her and invited her to join me for dinner while I was there, and was delighted to have her accept my invitation.  We met at Zuni Café, a favorite restaurant of mine in the City By the Bay, and quickly fell in to an easy and spirited conversation where, at times, it was difficult to finish a sentence or complete a thought because we both kept exclaiming “Yes! I know what you mean, that’s exactly what I think about [fill in the blank]!”  Instead of meeting a stranger, I felt as if I were getting together with a long-lost friend or cousin where we were able to pick up the thread of conversation right where we had left off years ago, as if the intervening years had never happened, our mutual language and vocabulary intact.
Over dinner Lisa and I hatched a plan to guest post on each other’s blogs, with the subject being college reunions, and our own 25th reunions in particular.  Herewith, Dear Reader, please find the guest post that Lisa has written about attending her 25th reunion at Princeton.  It is funny, charming, and thought-provoking—just like its author.  Once you've read it, please do link over to her blog, and read mine.

On May 27th, the masses gathered.  I sat on my sofa, writing to you all.  But across the country, my orange and black cohort gathered.  And wore really silly clothes.

Oh, wait, please excuse me.  I have forgotten my manners, overcome by visions of Tigers in umbrella hats.  Hello.  Nice to meet you.  My name is Lisa, and I write a blog called Privilege, where I natter on about style, rapture, and the High WASP culture.  Last month Reggie was so kind as to invite me to dinner in San Francisco.  We had a wonderful time, laughing, comparing notes, eating oysters.  Drinking gin martinis.

By the time dinner was over, we had agreed to exchange guest posts about our respective 25th college reunions.  Blame the oysters.  Or the martinis.  But forthwith, the story of a Princeton University 25th Reunion.  And some truly hideous pieces of apparel.

I graduated from Princeton in 1978.  And didn't attend a Reunion until 2003.  I didn't stay away out of hostility, or trauma.  I loved the place.  Just have never been much for large groups of people wearing orange hats.  Or beer.  I'd moved to California.  But the 25th was different.  We were exhorted to attend, friends were going, the timing was right.

I should have known what was up when this arrived in the mail.

Princeton Reunions are huge.  By the time you read this, 20,000 people will have attended Reunions 2010.  Tents cover the campus.  If you are a major year, 10th, 25th, 35th, you get your own tent.  If you are so enthusiastic as to return for your 19th, you share tent, bands, and beer with the 20th.

On the other hand, every class has their very own class uniform.  If you can use the word, "uniform" for outfits that include orange and black madras, rampant tigers, or other graphics in poor taste.

The Class of '78s jacket was even worse than the hat.  If only because it was bigger.  More tigers and extra palm trees.

And off to New Jersey I went.

I imagine that everyone attending their 25th Reunion feels some combination of the following: (I have to communicate via a numbered list.  High WASPs are uncomfortable with emotion; lists make good containers.)
  1. Self-satisfaction.  I must be great if I went to school HERE.  Concomitant anxiety, of course, I can't be as great as all these fabulous people.
  2. Respect for remembered excellence.  We revisit high points of thought, and shake our heads in happy admiration for professors from days gone by.
  3. Release from constraints.  Costumes allow High WASPs to drop their dignity, if not their pants.  Some of us are conflicted about our privilege, uncomfortable with the implications of elitism, still proud.  We can relax.
  4. Awe of tradition. Oh my god, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Old buildings.  Actual ivy.
  5. Awareness of change.  America's evolution seen clearly against those old buildings.
So I spent my days with wildly clever people, laughing at their banter and impressed by their accomplishments.  I wore my silly hat and jacket, giving up my High WASP aesthetic religion.  Whither clean lines?  Whither classicism?  I walked again on the paths between courtyards where thousands of students have walked.

Everything paled in comparison to the P-Rade.

Princeton Reunions culminate in a P-Rade.  All the classes gather at the top of Princeton's campus, in a long column, dressed in those silly costumes.  The Princeton band leads the crowd, along with the oldest returning alumnus.  For now, it's the oldest 'nus.  Eventually I suspect, given statistics, it will be a 'na.

Although the P-Rade sends the classes down campus mostly in order, oldest to youngest, the 25th Reunion class gets to go first.  This is almost certainly because historically we are the largest donors.  No matter.  Going first was wonderful.  Wonderful because the rest of the classes, as they wait to make the walk, line the P-Rade path.  So the 25th walks, with the oldest classes cheering us as we start, all the way down the campus, to where finally the entire graduating class crowds around the green.  And cheers the P-Rading alumni.

Could have been terribly self-congratulatory.  Didn't feel that way.

I remember starting to parade.  Walking with women I had known for over 25 years.  Band playing. Light rain falling.  To either side, men in orange blazers of one sort or another.  At the top of the hill they were all white men.  Then some Asians, some African Americans.  Then women. It felt pretty good to see the first groups of women.  We were only the 5th year of co-education.  Old habits die hard.

As we rounded some gray stone curve or other, the view widened.  And there was the class of 2003.  All 1,000 of them.  The Reunion blazer had morphed to a karate jacket, still orange and black, still tiger-infested.  Rainbow Coalition banners waved.  It kept on raining.  But I had a moment where one's heart rises in one's chest with hope.

I know all is not perfect in meritocracy heaven.  Still in America some children are brought up in ways and situations which preclude going to a place like Princeton, even if they might otherwise have flourished there.  But this LA Times article on High WASPs and the Supreme Court says it well.  Please us put aside the mention of ethnic superiority as a terrible vestige of a less-evolved time.  That's an old way of thinking, and impolite, besides.
"Yet, the British sociologist Eric Kaufmann observed, the Yankee sense of ethnic superiority often competed with their belief in universalist liberal ideology — equality, liberty and human rights.  One way that worked itself out is that non-Yankees could aspire and acculturate to the Yankee norm and ideal — by gaining entrance to their schools primarily, but also by joining their churches, appreciating their art forms and imbibing their ideas, adopting their aesthetic." (Gregory Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times)
My sister and I believe, and Reggie agreed with me so readily I feel we must be right, President Obama is a High WASP.  A High WASP in the world of 2010.

It may not be fashionable, or High WASP approved, to feel moved by thoughts of opportunity.  Possibly we who live in privilege ought to spend all our days atoning; but I think one can be a patriot and still believe much of the change over the last half century has been for the good.  Except the part where it's OK to show your stomach in public, and, yes, I'm queasy about eyebrow piercings, but still.  Evolution can take us forward.

In fact, you could argue that the American education system is the absolute best thing about our country.  I concede, however, the hats are dreadful.

Quote: LA Times
Images: hat, jacket, tyger burning bright, me. P-Rade, Joe Shlabotnik's Flickr stream.


  1. As one who dreads class reunions, Lisa I loved reading this!! Wonderful and witty!

    Art by Karena

  2. Lovely. The changing faces and genders along the parade route move me and give me hope. And, you two had dinner at the Zuni Cafe! Used to go often. Have been missing it. Will have to go back now and drink a toast to you Reggie, and change and tradition in measured balance.

  3. All Brown gave for my 25th was a polar fleece throw - in what appeared to be Harvard crimson, although with the Brown crest. For my 30th, a baseball cap. I suppose I should have picked a school with better reunion traditions!

  4. Oh my, what a horrible jacket. But a very enjoyable post. Thank you, Lisa.

  5. The hats ARE often dreadful. (And my GOSH, but I used to really wonder who the HECK used to be the clothing buyer at the Harvard Coop?? Terrible stuff!!) But my dad had a classic straw boater with orange and black grosgrain band, which really wasn't too bad! Wonder where that thang is...

  6. Great post & why Princeton has not added an introduction to style mandatory-I don't know. I am sure you wore it well though and with as much dignity as is possible.

  7. Oh my goodness...and from all people... my adored LPC...I've now seen togs that even to me, are off putting. I'd give money to see a picture of you in that jacket and hat.

    Your pal...


  8. Karena - Thank you!

    Kcecelia - Thank you so much. Hope you enjoyed Zuni.

    DocP - Yeah, but you had readily accessible skiing. It all balances out.

    Willow - That's a polite way to put it:).

    Sister - You're very welcome. I'm surviving the scars, I think.

  9. Someone - Yes, I think some of the older blazers were kind of retro cool. A nice orange and black chalk stripe, or madras plaid. Or maybe it's just in contrast to rampant tigers, since I never would otherwise have expected to say something like, "a nice orange and black chalk stripe."

    little augury - Thank you so much. The photos of me from that day all highlight a terribly abashed expression.

    ADG- Ha! So this breaks even the GTH mold? I did think about putting up a photo of me in the getup. Rig, as you call it. But I'd have to post sixty pahillion pictures of me in little black dresses to compensate, and I thought I'd spare you all.

  10. I'd add a Grant to the see-LPC-in-that-outfit pot! OK, maybe a Hamilton.........

  11. That was so enjoyable! From the horror of the required attire, to the sense of our country's history all spelled out in faces of a P-Rade, this was very moving, to say the least. Off to visit Lisa's site next.

  12. Your meaning is understood and appreciated, but to call Obama a High WASP is to forget what that word means and degrade what the President is.
    Nothing is wrong at all with being White-Anglo, but to allow one such as Mr. Obama entrance without changing that anacronsim is to insinuate that he has overcome what he is rather than us celebrating him for what he is.
    He is a black, mixed race, protestant, and hurray for that.
    I thought this a great post but also thought it worth reflecting on that one line.

  13. Given Princeton, I think you got off easy with that jacket.

    (Imagine finding yourself buck-naked in the woods with an otherwise inexplicable tiger tattooed to your bottom. You might be mistaken for George Schultz.)

  14. Patsy - I'm afraid it would have to be the kind of grant that comes from the Ford Foundation:).

    The Zhush - I'm so glad you came over.

    Brohammas - I understand. I did push the envelope a bit, it's true. But the point is to free the High WASP from the prison of trivia, of cultural detritus, of plaids and straw bags and toile. I could argue that Obama's position is so strong now that we use his example to expand our cliche, not use our cliche to expand his example. If that makes sense. I suppose I meant it in the Platonic sense, what we should be, if the values matter more than the other attributes.

    The Ancient - How about if I don't and say I did:).

  15. The hat actually could be a good deal worse. At least it wasn't a baseball cap or, God forbid, a golf visor. (Or a fishing hat, which is what we may least you can't go too wrong with maroon.) It is at least utilitarian, and the tigers make it...uh...festive, yes, that's the word! I'm certain you managed to wear both hat and jacket with some aplomb.

    LPC, since I discovered your journal, I have entertained a new respect for High WASPdom, as you call it. In my family it has degraded to a kind of sodden, mediocre complacency, and so I'd grown up observing it with rather a jaundiced eye. I had half forgotten that the family I married into had far more of the attributes you describe. I'm still mulling the possible reasons for these differences.

    And I understand fully what you mean by describing Obama (and Kagan, via your link) as belonging to this group. I think the reason for this, however, may be that my university, with which they are both associated, has historically been the kind of melting pot for blue-collar, African American, immigrant, and WASP culture that Harvard, Princeton, and Yale really never could be. I believe Chicago has done a great deal to expand the definition of "High WASP" by making it more relevant and responsive to the surrounding community. Hyde Park culture is unique--when Obama won the presidency, the east coast media's coverage just couldn't do it justice, no matter how many hours they camped out at Valois' "See Your Food".

  16. Thanks Reggie and Lisa, Great idea. As an '85,*87 I absolutely Love IT. "it will be...'na...LOL.

    Always Bumby

  17. Staircase - I think the "melting pot" is such an ideal and so hard to know what it ought to look like in real life. As long as we bumble along, however, with the best intentions.

    Bumby - Na na na na - isn't that a song:)?

  18. Yes LPC, I just can't remember the words.

  19. Thank God she went. Thank God she wore that hideous jacket!

    My husband went to his 50th Choate reunion. He was not only the only Californian in his class......(1957) He was also the only one with an Italian name!! Bianchi!

    It was a peak experience for me........completely astonishing...and wonderful in every way!

    I must write a blog about it........I think many might be interested! This is a fascinating story!

    Bravo is what I have to say!!!

    To Reggie and to Lisa!!!


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