Amherst Magazine

Just Old Enough

By Katherine Duke '05

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Former Zumbyes sing at Reunion.

Vanessa Hettinger ’04 and Marni Grambau ’04 roomed together for two years at Amherst. Imagine their surprise when they returned for Reunion 2008 and were assigned to share a room again. “We’re gonna have a sleep­over—stay up all night talking,” joked Grambau, who works for the American Board of Internal Medicine in Philadelphia. It would be like old times, she said.

Of course, for some of us, “old times” aren’t very old. In addition to the usual reunions for every class at five-year intervals, this spring marked the first Young Alumni Reunion for classes that graduated one to four years ago. This included my own class, and though I wore my official employee-of-Amherst nametag and relaxed in my office in Converse between events, I was every bit the nostalgic returning alum.

At Commencement rehearsal in 2007, Betsy Cannon Smith ’84, executive director of alumni and parent programs, announced that a Young Alumni Reunion was in the works, and by the end of that Commencement, the Class of ’07 was already buzzing about reuniting the following year.

To prepare for the reunion, a committee of young class officers surveyed their classmates to find out what programs would be of most interest. “Because a lot of us are either not yet in an established job or looking to change jobs, the idea of networking sessions and looking at career options seemed topical and useful,” explains Roz Foster ’05, reunion chair for her class and a substitute teacher in California. The committee invited members of older reunion classes to speak about their careers in law, entertainment, the nonprofit sector and other fields.

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I, personally, was more interested in several panels hosted by classes from earlier decades. Two such panels gave me tips on how to get my writing published (after my gig at this fine magazine ends), and two others gave me insight into the past and current state of liberal arts education in the United States. (The consensus of the professors and alumni on that panel: Amherst kids of my generation have a thicker course catalog, more diverse classmates, higher grades, cushier dorms and greater opportunity and inclination to undertake big, impressive projects than “the Amherst man” did back in their day. Everything else is debatable.) I also dined with my fellow Young Alumni under a tent on Valentine Quad, though I had to catch the last bus home before the dancing really got started. This was fitting: even as a student, I was never much of a party animal.

In all, more than 200 young alumni took part in the reunion. None of my closest friends came back, but I see them often enough anyway. It was a treat to reconnect with the people with whom I share just a few quirky memories—my next-door neighbors from senior year, for example, and the fellow ’05 who was born on the same day as I was, but on a different continent.

Considering that I live in Amherst and work at the college, I was surprised at how transported I felt, back to a time when the campus belonged to us. It was nice to feel, for a weekend, not like I was too old to be a student, but like I was just barely old enough to be an alumna.

Cannon Smith expects next year’s Young Alumni Reunion to feature more recently graduated performers and artists. I’ll be here to watch.