Classes of 1995 and 1996 celebrate in-person reunion

Dartmouth hosted a reunion for the Classes of 1995 and 1996 this past weekend, giving alumni the chance to reconnect with their peers after more than two years of the pandemic.

by Emily Fagell | 7/29/22 5:00am

alyse-streicher-95
Source: Courtesy of Alyse Kornfeld Streicher

From July 22-24, alumni from the Classes of 1995 and 1996 gathered on campus for their first in-person reunion since the beginning of the pandemic. Although the celebrations were postponed in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, the event — dubbed the “25th[ish] Reunion” in an email sent to alumni from the Class of 1995 — aimed to commemorate the quarter-century milestone.

According to Alumni Council president and reunion committee member Laurie Lewis Shapiro ’95 and Class of 1996 president Leslie Jennings Rowley ’96, roughly 275 members of the Class of 1995 and 240 members of the Class of 1996, along with hundreds of their children, attended the event. Jennings Rowley said the turn-out was “on par with past reunions” with these classes. She noted that the 25th reunion typically draws a larger crowd but that the pandemic likely prevented some classmates from traveling. 

According to the Class of 1995 and Class of 1996 webpages, the weekend included events such as group meals, campus tours, panel discussions and a “Reunion On The River,” during which alumni had access to swimming, kayaking and paddle boarding at the Ledyard Canoe Club. 

Class of 1995 president and reunion chair Alyse Kornfeld Streicher ’95 said the reunion committee aimed to create a lowkey atmosphere, calling on alumni to “relive [their] sophomore summer.” Nakiah Cherry Chinchilla ’96, the reunion chair for the Class of 1996, agreed that the weekend had an “authentic” feel.

“The entire vibe from Thursday’s ‘Early Bird’ mixer to the post-Sunday brunch goodbyes up and down Main Street was so positive … [It] made me so proud to be a member of the Class of 1996,” Cherry Chinchilla wrote in an emailed statement. “[The reunion exceeded] every expectation I had for it, honestly.”

Planning for the reunion began a few years ago – specifically 2019 for the Class of 1996, according to Cherry Chinchilla and Lewis Shapiro. When the Class of 1995 reunion was postponed in March 2020, the reunion committee had almost finished planning for the event, forcing the group to cancel their vendors and “almost … restart again,” Lewis Shapiro added.

“It was so heartbreaking because you do look forward to it, and by that time it was March, so we were only a few months out,” she said. “Obviously none of us knew that it would last this long, so it was just a huge bummer. The committee had already done the work.”

Both reunion committees adapted to the postponement. Kornfeld Streicher said that some committee members stepped down, allowing new classmates to join and Kornfeld Streicher to assume the chairmanship. Lewis Shapiro said that the Class of 1995 also switched its theme to “sophomore summer” to “embrace that [the reunion] was a little campy-er, a little chiller [since] it’s not the 25th.” She added that the College had never held a reunion in July, calling the weekend a “grand experiment in terms of who would come and how it would work.”

Although the Class of 1996 had not yet fully planned their reunion when the pandemic struck, the group also experienced COVID-related changes and challenges, according to Jennings Rowley. 

Cherry Chinchilla wrote that the reunion “went from being a weekend full of College programming to one [essentially] with no College programming,” adding that flights also became more expensive in the past six months. She wrote that the 1996 committee still came in under budget, using registration fees — the primary funding for both classes — to finance the reunion.

Ultimately, the College allowed both classes back on campus for their 25th reunion — a special accommodation that Jennings Rowley said not all classes received — under the restrictions of Dartmouth’s current COVID-19 policy. Other reunions were canceled entirely, but the 25th reunion committees convinced the College to postpone, rather than cancel, according to Rowley. Despite the delay and ensuing challenges, Jennings Rowley said the celebration was a success.

“It was fabulous, aside from the heat — or maybe in addition to the heat,” Jennings Rowley added. “Our energy in the tent and everywhere that ’96s were and ’95s were was electric, and people were so glad to have a way to come together and see one another, particularly many of whom hadn’t seen each other for many, many years.”  

Official festivities began on Friday, July 22, during which alumni could attend a tour of the Hood Museum of Art, enjoy a barbecue class dinner, take their children to the “BEMA Kid Space” — replete with lawn games, crafts and an inflatable movie screen — and socialize in the class tent, according to the Class of 1995 reunion schedule.

On Saturday, both classes held memorial services to commemorate their lost peers. Alumni could also attend tours and open houses of campus spaces, including the Baker bell tower, the Bartlett Tower, public art on campus, and the newly-unveiled West End

At a class dinner, attendees also enjoyed a reception and a performance by the Dartmouth Summerphonix, according to Summerphonix member David Katz ’24.

The weekend also included several panels. The Class of 1996 held a “Celebrating 50 Panel” discussing gender and race in the 1990s, while the Class of 1995 hosted two panel discussions. One was entitled “What’s Happening Now at Dartmouth” and the other “Empathos,” which was focused on support and reconnection, according to Empathos committee chair Ray Wadlow ’95.

While many alumni said they enjoyed the planned events, Tiernan Sittenfeld ’96 and others said the best part of the weekend was reuniting with old friends and classmates.

“I think for me the biggest highlight was getting to see so many friends and classmates, both people who I am lucky to get to see periodically but also people I hadn’t seen in a really long time,” said Sittenfeld. 

Wadlow added that this reunion felt “fundamentally different” than other reunions he has attended.

“I don’t know whether it's the magnitude of it being the 25th,” Wadlow said. “But everybody’s getting to the stage now where, whether you sort of say it out loud or not, you realize that time’s moving on. … There really is nothing like the bond you have with the people that you spent four years with at Dartmouth.”   

Some alumni said they also enjoyed interacting with students on campus, such as the student reunion workers or those on campus for sophomore summer. Wadlow, for example, said he had dinner with a group of brothers in his fraternity, Psi Upsilon. Head student worker for the Class of 1996 Moonoka Begay ’23 added that she naturally got to know alumni as part of her job.

“Every time we were around the tent, moving things around, we were directing people where to go, giving them helpful tips or just really connecting on a base level,” she said.

Colton Sankey ’24, the head student worker for the Class of 1995, said that he helped organize a reunion for his Greek space.

“I was able to see a lot of [alumni] come back to their Greek space — which I now share with them — and hang out and continue to talk about what they did back when they were here and be able to internally compare that to the experience that I’m having right now,” Sankey said.

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