By Geoff Gehman ’80
They came to Reunion 2011 at Lafayette College on June 10-12 to celebrate major class anniversaries: 5 years, 25 years, a half-century. They came from as far away as London and Sweden, after absences as long as 40 years. They came for the usual reasons: to reminisce and catch up. They came for unusual reasons: to escort a father to his 55th reunion; to honor the spirit of a father who had attended his 50th reunion. They came because Lafayette is in their bloodstream for life, because they bleed Maroon & White.
NOTE: The following vignettes provide glimpses into individuals’ journeys back to Lafayette. It is the opening story to a collection of articles about Reunion College (John Pierce ’81 on the construction of Yankee Stadium and Amy Herman ’88 on the art of perception), the reuniting of the rock band Weird People, the President’s State of the College address, photo galleries of the parade, socials, and 50-Plus Club, and more. Through the Reunion 2011 Flickr set, you can view photos, share them easily through Facebook, Twitter, or email, and download them. You can also catch highlights through a video.
Alan Bradford ’61 recalled one of his favorite Lafayette memories: singing after dinner at his fraternity, Kappa Delta Rho, accompanied by one of three resident pianists. “That’s something you can’t imagine happening today,” says the resident of Santa Fe, N.M. “Everybody would be on their cell phone or whatever.”
All that singing practice paid off when Bradford and his KDR brothers won a college musical skit competition. Their winning selection was “I’m Getting Married in the Morning,” the cocky Cockney ditty from My Fair Lady.
Jim Murphy ’61 is particularly proud of winning a share of the Gilbert Prize for superiority in English, no mean feat for a first-year chemistry major. The $50 reward, he remembers, was “nothing to retire on.” What was priceless was an endorsement from Carson Gibb, his first-year English instructor. “This is Mr. Murphy,” said Gibb to a colleague, “who can write.”
It was at Lafayette that Murphy learned to write papers with a proper beginning, middle, and end, sometimes cranking them out at the 12th hour. The editing tips and the deadline pressures, he says, primed him to write reports for the new chemicals branch of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Murphy was attending his first reunion in 40 years. He reveals that he came not so much for the 50th anniversary of his graduating class, but for the 50th anniversary of the graduating class of his late father, W. Albert Murphy ’22. A man of dry wit, he explains: “I thought, well, he might come back and haunt me if I didn’t come back.”
On the steps of Farinon College Center, Peter Hanson ’61 stood out in the back row of the Class of 1961 as it gathered for its group photo. When you’re 6-foot-8, you always stand in the back row. You also stand out in any row.
Hanson came to Lafayette as a pretty fair basketball player and an erratic student. George Davidson ’51, then the College’s basketball coach, convinced him to spend his first year in the basement of Gates Hall, thinking that his grades would be better in a quiet environment, removed from noisy frats and Quad temptations.
Davidson “wanted his basketball players to stay in school,” says Hanson. “It was probably the reason I stayed in school. I feel very blessed.” In fact, Hanson enjoyed his peaceful living situation so much, he spent his sophomore year in the basement of McKeen Hall.
Hanson’s skyscraper height was a Reunion theme. One 1961 graduate was overheard remarking that Hanson was the only classmate he recognized. Other classmates insisted that Hanson was taller than he was 50 years ago. “They keep telling me ‘You’ve grown,’” says the former chair of Lafayette’s publications committee. “I haven’t grown, but maybe they’ve shrunk.”
Standing on the Quad, David Pesce ’86 and Craig Parker ’86 compare their Lafayette legacies. Parker’s father, Gayle, graduated in 1956. Pesce counts eight Lafayette grads among his extended family.
Parker was a member of the track and field team that set the College record for distance medley relay. He knows the record still stands because he checked it that day.
Pesce points out something Parker was too modest to point out. Parker flew from California, where he lives, to North Carolina, where his father lives, so he could escort his father to his 55th reunion. The act of family devotion made Craig Parker an honorary member of the Class of ’56 and Gayle Parker an honorary member of the Class of ’86.
Lisa LaCroce Patterson ’86 and Rayna Portnoy ’86 stood under a Quad tent, reunited for the first time since they graduated. Their friendship was sealed as first-year students during a fiendishly, famously difficult class. “We suffered through organic chemistry together,” says Portnoy. “We were bonded for life.”
Portnoy laughed at the memory of classmates tormenting her for her Long Island accent. They pestered her to pronounce, or mispronounce, the name of a certain coin. “They were always after me to ‘Say QUAW-ter!’ Say QUAW-ter!”
“We just had a good time,” says Portnoy of her Lafayette time with Patterson. “Every day was a good day.”
She pauses and adds, without a hint of sadness: “Not like real life.”
Earlier in the day Patterson had introduced classmate Doug Campbell ’86, who gave a Reunion College session on Hands Together, a humanitarian organization in Haiti. The organization’s executive director, he helped found the education-and-relief group at Lafayette in 1986. His mentor was, and is, Father Thomas J. Hagan, then the College’s Catholic chaplain and still Hands Together’s shepherd.
Campbell seemed remarkably refreshed for someone who two days earlier finished a week-long trip to Haiti, where he supervised students who suffer from poverty, illness, and homes destroyed by a 2010 earthquake. He notes that Father Hagan’s moving speech about Hands Together’s overwhelming mission at the College’s 2010 commencement prompted significant donations of money and time from the Lafayette community.
Campbell praises Hagan as a visionary leader of undergraduate volunteers. “He saw through our egocentricity and our narcissism,” says Campbell. “He saw the potential of this little band of misfits.”
Ward Follette ’86 came to his 25th reunion from London, where he is a process engineer who manages such projects as a grass-roots refinery in Saudi Arabia. He returned to campus mainly to thank Lafayette for giving him “a second chance” after he flunked out of Virginia Tech. Among his fondest cum-laude accomplishments is acing a thermodynamics test. His classmates, he recalls, disliked him for finishing the three-hour exam in two hours and for screwing up their grading curve.
Follette maintained his ties to Virginia Tech while attending Lafayette. In 1985 he hosted a half-dozen Virginia Tech frat brothers at the Lafayette-Lehigh football game. The experience primed them, he says, for the following week’s game between Virginia Tech and its archrival, University of Virginia.
Follette recalls a more somber connection between his two schools. In 2007 a gunman murdered 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech. Among the victims was Daniel Patrick O’Neil ’06, a master’s candidate in environmental engineering. Lafayette memorialized O’Neill in a renovated plaza by Colton Chapel; Follette honors him by wearing a black ribbon on his work badge.
The Reunion dinner in Kamine Gym buzzed with surrogate sisterhoods. At one table Lauren Giordani ’06 and Liz Ciampa ’06 formed a powerful mutual admiration society. Giordani thanked Ciampa for taking her to Ciampa’s family home in Manhasset, N.Y., a virtual adoption that made Giordani feel less lonely away from her own family home in San Diego. Ciampa thanked Giordani for being the sister she never had and for convincing her not to transfer to Cornell.
No wonder Ciampa and Giordani remained roommates for four years. No wonder they live near one another in Manhattan. And no wonder they didn’t mind sleeping on Reunion air mattresses.
At another table, Emma Gould ’06 declares it was her need to spend more time with her Lafayette sisters that helped convince her to move from Australia back to the States. Her comment pleased one of her honorary siblings. “When Emma can be at Reunion,” says Emily Becher ’06, “it’s a big reunion.”
It was the group’s first on-campus get-together since graduating. Over five years they’ve had many reunions off campus, some way, way off campus, for instance the wedding ceremony in India for Marta Murczek ’06. And there was a bachelorette party in Trinidad for Becher before she married Christopher Magee ’06.
“It was the best New Year’s I’ve ever experienced,” says Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung ’06, a Trinidad native and the party’s hostess.
“My friends made an impression on the entire country. They still ask about those Lafayette girls.”