Archive for June, 2011

Grab the Tiger By the Tail

When I worked in school communications, I helped publicize the annual alumni reunion. With the tag line “Looking Back, Moving Forward,” the invitations promised returning alumni the chance to reconnect with old friends and to see how the campus had changed since their era. So, having rolled out the welcome wagon for several years, I thought I understood reunion psychology pretty well—until I attended my own college reunion for the first time recently. Walking in Princeton’s legendary P-rade, I found myself unprepared for the whiplash of emotions that simultaneously looking back and moving forward evoked.

The “One and Only P-rade,” in which all alumni present at reunions parade through campus, is the headline event. The 25th Reunion Class leads the procession, trailed by a fleet of golf carts carrying the Old Guard, a dwindling contingent of graduates marking their 65th Reunion and up. (The Old Guard is the one of last of vestiges of Princeton’s all-male history; the first female graduates won’t be eligible for the Old Guard until 2039.) The rest of the classes follow, in order of seniority, with some members carrying placards noting historical and cultural milestones from their era. With over 20,000 alumni (plus family and friends) participating in the P-rade, it takes an entire afternoon for nine decades of Princeton alumni to cover less than a mile.

1961 Jacket (Photo: Noemi Bonazzi w'81)

To the uninitiated, such a campus crawl might sound pretty tame, even dull, but the P-rade is not the stately march you might expect from a group of graying Ivy Leaguers. Rather, the P-rade constitutes what must surely be the world’s largest and most unabashed display of orange and back, tiger-themed fashion, the more outrageously accessorized the better. Waiting for my class’s turn to fall into line, standing next to girl wearing her late grandfather’s garishly patterned class “beer jacket,” it dawns on me that these outlandish jackets will outlast us all. A cacophony of sound complements the sartorial volume of the P-rade: brass bands, applause, “locomotive” cheers and the echoing chorus of the school song (“Goin’ Back to Old Nassau”). Orange is a high-octane hue; the P-rade wouldn’t pack the same punch if our school color was, say, crimson. The whole rowdy spectacle ends with a roar, as the graduating class sprints the last 100 yards.

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