|Hundreds of picnic tables await a lawn party.|
You can choose your friends, as the saying goes, but you can't choose your family. It's also true that you can't really choose your classmates.
This weekend was officially deemed Reunion Weekend at Davidson. We welcomed more than a thousand alumni and their guests, for a total exceeding 1,700 folks. It was as if college were back in session. Alumni were even camped out in dormitories.
I work at the college, which means that campus is my office. I try not to take that for granted, because my office is remarkably pretty--old growth trees, carefully tended flowers, lawns that stretch before stately and reverent buildings. There are armies of Greek columns, miles of brick pathways, and yes, even an ivy-covered well.
It's never boring to see those gathering for reunions wander about the campus. The fifth reunion-ers are always casual, keeping mostly to familiar groups, moving about without regard to the campus, which is still very fresh and familiar in their minds. Not much has changed. Tenth reunion-ers aren't too different--campus is mostly the same, but now there are children toddling behind them as they walk the quad. The twenty-fifth reunion-ers often seem more interested in each other--friends catching up and taking stock of families, careers, and lives that have emerged in full bloom.
The fiftieth reunion class is wonderfully fun. Though I didn't get to hang out with them much this time, I know from experience that many are brimming with nostalgia. Some are returning for the first time in decades--still others for the first time since they collected their diplomas. They mill about campus with cameras around their necks, broad hats covering their thinning hair, tourists on their own campus, strangers to their long-ago senior portraits.
Regardless, though, of the time spanning degree dates and today's date, the men and women who come back forget more with each reunion the walls that inevitably are built in the life of any undergraduate. Of course, roommates always seem to get along just like the old times, pranksters never forget their best jobs, and wallflowers quickly wind up at their usual spots, but it struck me again this weekend that these people are just like family. They gather together in accordance to the passage of time, marking the occasions like holidays, reveling with food and drink and warm spirit.
And then, as quickly as they assembled, they disband, off to retreat back to their corners of the world, to the lives they've cultivated from the garden bed of college, where renewed memories climb back into their darkened chambers to sleep, and the countdown until the next reunion quietly starts ticking again.
In the moment of time, though, in which these people are together for their reunion, there are no walls. No boundaries, no division, no implement of social discourse to separate them. They are brothers and sisters, even though now they are grandfathers and grandmothers. Their table is open. Their love and affection for one another is true. Their bond is strong, a fabric woven with their always-present alma mater, sewn tighter with a mindset only time and age can become.
Invariably, these people realize the path they're marching has been long and storied, and that the future holds fewer reunions than the past. There is a darkness ahead--not one that is terrifying or unknown, but one that is accepted and understood with a steady resolve.
That knowledge only underscores their affection for this moment of brilliance, though. These people didn't choose one another. Rather, they were chosen, fifty years ago, to enter these hallways and pursue the truth that knowledge brings. Here they suffered and celebrated. Here they released and restrained. And from here was borne the character that awakened within them through the course of their four years.
They didn't choose each other, but here they are nonetheless. Today it is overwhelmingly evident that they have fallen in love with each other, and though in several cases their love is distant and hobbled by everyday life, here at the reunion dinner table, it burns with renewed vigor. This is their moment, and yes, they've seized upon it.
There may never be another chance.