The Sons of Old Dartmouth

by Abby Horowitz | 7/5/01 5:00am

The crowd gathered at the Daniel Webster room in the Hanover Inn one Saturday this past interim was a fairly homogenous group -- elderly men in suits and ties accompanied by nicely attired wives. Then there was me, a 20-year-old girl standing in the back of the room wearing flip-flops.

I was there as a student worker for the Dartmouth reunions. Assigned to the reunions of the classes of '51 and '41, I was surrounded for several days by men and women in their 70s and 80s. It was a pleasure.

As they milled about in their souvenir white golf hats, I felt like I was surrounded by a roomful of grandparents. And besides looking the part, they fit the role by offering me grandparent-like advice. I was lectured about my generation's responsibility to make the world better, about how I should tell my parents that I love them as often as possible, and how I should try to see a solar eclipse at least once in my lifetime.

But the message I heard the most was how quickly half of a century could and did pass. "I bet it's hard to believe that you'll be here someday at your 50th college reunion," they said again and again. And they are right. Anything past age 25 seems like another universe for me. Me in 2053? Seventy-two years old and with white hair?

The alumni were all male, of course, and almost entirely Caucasian. They had names like "Red," "Ace," "Badger" and "Champ." They included interesting characters like the man who invented the recycling code found on all plastic bottles. One man had gone on an Arctic expedition after school; another had become a rabbi.

Of course most of them, especially the members of the class of '41, no longer had the spry and fit bodies they had as students. How impressive their effort to return to Dartmouth for this occasion. Some came accompanied by their children because they could no longer get around easily by themselves.

In other cases, the widows of deceased alumni attended the reunion, a demonstration of the affection and high regard that their husbands held for this school. These older alumni clearly felt a strong loyalty and dedication to Dartmouth. I wonder if I feel will the same.

They attended Dartmouth at a time when there were food fights in Collis Commonground (the cafeteria back in the day). Many members of the class of '41 went straight from graduation to World War II. (In fact, the class of '41 lost the greatest number of lives in that war.)

Listening to their stories about Dartmouth more than 50 years ago, I often felt like I was hearing about another school; surely this could not be the same place where I am now a student. But even though their Dartmouth may not be like my Dartmouth, we are still joined by this school as members of an extended family.

That night in the Daniel Webster room, our different choice of footwear was of no importance. When the crowd stood up to sing the alma mater, I stood and joined them, flip-flops and all.