We spent a weekend at Princeton University and Reunions in late spring. For Princetonians, every year is a reunion year. This year, approximately 25,000 alumni, dressed in flamboyant orange-and-black blazers and “beer jackets”, returned to campus. Tents cropped up with their beer spigots. At night, bands played into the wee hours. In order to get into the parties, though, you need a wristband that comes with paid registration.
In the past, famous alumni such as Brooke Shields, George Will, and Ralph Nader mingled with their classmates. (I’m still waiting for Michelle Obama and David Duchovny. I missed Jeff Bezos in 2017). The P-rade, a raucous 3.5 hour parade through campus, starts in the afternoon. Local people come just to watch the spectacle. While you’re waiting for the P-rade to begin, you can explore the campus and town.
Best experience: Seeing old friends
Favorite non-reunion experience: Visiting the art museum.
Most innovative class costume: 2009, Super Mario Bros.
Although I did not go to Princeton (other than taking a few classes), I’m a part of it. My husband and I lived in graduate student housing while he worked on his dissertation. Since then, we return every year to Princeton University and Reunions. The open campus in central New Jersey is not just for alumni, though. Its art museum houses a world-class collection. The world-class Firestone Library puts on exhibits that are open to the public. Sporting events bring in a lot of spectators. And Richardson Auditorium hosts classical music concerts. Off-campus, McCarter Theater, a well-known regional theater not officially part of the university, puts on fabulous shows. If you’re an architecture junkie, you might visit to see the collegiate Gothic or the new, more innovative buildings.
The old parts of the university look exactly as you’d expect at an Ivy-league school, constructed in the collegiate Gothic style. And, yes, many buildings are covered in ivy. Nassau Hall, the iconic building at the entrance to the campus, was once occupied by the British during the American Revolutionary War. Like many well-endowed universities, Princeton is constantly expanding and renovating. History is everywhere, but so are modern buildings. Lewis Science Library, designed by Frank Gehry, sits on Washington Avenue. The all-glass Sherred Hall, home of the chemistry department, was designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners.
The Art Museum
For a small, free museum, the art collection found inside is remarkable. The European galleries contain works by Fra Angelico,Goya, Monet, Van Gogh and Cézanne. Currently, the museum has a fascinating exhibit titled “Gainsborough’s Family Album” featuring Gainborough’s portraits of himself and his family. Another room contains Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States. The modern and contemporary galleries contain art by Georgia O’Keefe, Warhol, de Kooning, and yes, Tom Wesselmann. You’ll find galleries devoted to photography, Asian art, African art, Ancient, Byzantine, and Islamic art — and more.
The One-and-Only P-Rade
The 25,000 attendees include Princetonians and their families all dressed in class costumes. They gather for the P-rade on Saturday afternoon, a 3.5 hour extravaganza that starts at 2 pm. The oldest alumni lead the way, followed by the 25th reunion class. After those two groups, the classes count down from oldest to youngest. The P-rade has marching bands, bagpipe players, Mummers, orange cars, and a few floats. Everyone has a blast, from toddlers to nonegenarians — and beyond. Joe Schein, from the class of 1937, was the oldest attendee. As always, he walked the route despite being over 100 years old. To get a true glimpse of Princeton University and Reunions, you need to either be there or, if you can’t, view a photo gallery.