June 1, 2014
Alumni (and their family members) listen as Amherst's Aaron Hayden gives a Reunion 2014 talk
Generations of alumni converged upon the Amherst campus and its environs May 28 to June 1 to reconnect with old friends, make some new ones and see a broad sampling of all that their alma mater now offers alums of the future.
More than 1,600 alumni—and 2,700 total attendees, both record-setting numbers—got a chance to dine on the quad, play baseball and visit the Emily Dickinson Museum and the Amherst College Book Depository in the former U.S. Strategic Air Command’s bunker in the Holyoke Range through Reunion 2014 activities. Many classmates also participated in a robust Reunion Challenge, making first or repeat gifts that are matched up to $500,000 by two alumni in the classes of 1964 and 1984 (reunion year alumni may have their gifts matched through June 6).
The alumni attended a wide array of presentations, lectures, and performances by noted graduates. Entrepreneurs, athletes, scientists and current faculty members alike discussed a range of both serious and light topics, including human rights, Adolf Hitler’s defeat, the summer evening sky, the science behind happiness and the work/life balance.
With nods to history—tours of Stearns Steeple and the Beneski Museum of Natural History being just two—many conversations dealt with the new and the future. Google’s Jason Spero ’94 was joined by David Muhlenfeld ’94 of the Martin Agency and Matt Collins ’94 of Microsoft for a discussion of the marketing implications of the digital revolution. Some high-profile members of the Class of 1984 discussed how changes in technology have and haven’t made an impact on their work.
Joseph Stiglitz ’64 speaks to a packed Stirn Auditorium
Another highlight was a lecture given by former trustee Joseph Stiglitz ’64, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and professor at Columbia University, who spoke to an overflow crowd at Stirn Auditorium. Stiglitz—who was himself celebrating his 50th reunion—recalled seeing members of the Class of 1914 on campus during his graduating year, and “thinking how old they look. I don’t think they look so old now,” he noted, to much laughter from the audience.
Using President John F. Kennedy’s exhortation to Amherst students in 1963 when he dedicated Frost Memorial Library to address fundamental issues of wealth inequality from their positions of privilege at an elite college, Stiglitz served up his not entirely positive assessment that the world his class was bequeathing to a younger generation had improved. His talk touched on technology, rates of innovation, discrimination, climate change and politics, among other things.
His bottom line? “We would be much better off if people in society today had the opportunities that we had at Amherst 50 years ago.”
In addition to Stiglitz’s lecture were several days of activities, fun and important College business. May 31 featured the annual meeting of the Society of Alumni, where President Biddy Martin, who was joined by Cullen Murphy ’74, chair of the Board of Trustees, gave an overview of the state of Amherst today and answered thought-provoking questions on diversity of thought, academic freedom, religious studies and cancelled commencement speeches at other institutions across the country.
The weekend rounded out with receptions, memorials and, of course, music from the Zumbyes and the Buckley Chamber Players.
For many alumni present, the weekend was more than just about reuniting with old friends.
“Being back here is making me see the unparalleled opportunities Amherst provided me,” said Anna K. Meyer ’95, a pediatric head and neck surgeon who brought her son Micah (“Class of 2036,” she said) with her from San Francisco. She noted that her return made her realize that her alma mater had, more than anything else in her life, helped her develop her moral compass and her ability think critically. “What this reiterates to me is that you shouldn’t discount a school that isn’t about professionalizing.”
Couldn't make it to Reunion, but interested in seeing photos? Check out a sampling on Storify.