Justin Hall's personal site growing & breaking down since 1994

watch overshare: the links.net story contact me

links.net : vita : swat :
reunion 2003

Swarthmore college in eastern Pennsylvania held a reunion weekend. Amidst rain and some gloom but much good cheer, classes celebrating reunions at five year intervals gathered. I was a part of the youngest class, 1998. There were people there from 1928, two ladies 95 and 96. And many other classes besides (1993, 1988, 1983, 1978, etc).

Each class had their own events and festivities. For the classes of the fifties and sixties, there were panel discussions on the college's participation in the folk music scene. For the youngest class, there was the chance to catch up and experience an odd sense of having never left an old party where nearly everyone still looks the same and even dispenses the same glances and attitudes.

It was a short trip for me, only two nights. On the last night, each of the classes gathered for a dinner and party. I was having a grand time dancing to nostalgic tunes and eating chinese food with my 1998s, on the rubberized floor of the giant field house gymnasium. But I wanted to see other groups gathered on campus - how does the class of 1958 party today? Or 1973? Finally, admist the protestations of my friends who wanted primarily to find better imbibements, I retreated alone up towards the center of the quiet campus. Nearby at the dining hall, the class of 1978 was just cleaning up from a reunion concert by the class of 1978 band. Two men stood outside the back door, one lowered his hands behind his back quickly when I came by. "Don't worry," I said, "I've smoked pot before."

They smiled and nodded and loosened up, we were all on the same level. We spoke a bit about the weekend, about our classes. We each seemed glad to find some common ground across generations. They invited me to join them later in the Amphitheatre, a tree-studded silent lay line locus on campus. A perfect place to visit late in the evening when the parties have all turned to beer.

And so I grabbed a friend Shoshanna and we traipsed down there early. A troupe of 1978s toting bottles and pipes and quiet conversation seemed suprised to see us and finally embraced us in their circle. We stood around talking in darkness. One man spoke to a classmate about his child, who seemed to be shaping up to be like an old classmate of theirs, getting by mysteriously without foresight or preparation. And there was news of each other, work and moving, families and old friends.

Some were curious about me, "a freelance writer exploring the social impact of videogames." They were torn between being literate hipsters and parents, mostly unsure and slightly doubtful of the benefits or richness of the culture of games. So I opined and listened and took a few notes. A handful of my 1998 friends adventured down into the amphitheatre as well, and it was a quorum continuum - two generations of late night talking geeks.

Wandering amidst all these people from "Swarthmore College" I wondered what that meant. I was struck by what a lovely sheltered place it was. So far from the grim and disarray of most of the world. I was pained to see so much money and effort spent to educate so few people. I compared the intense cloistered-quality of the campus with the school's stated ethic of social awareness and community service. I wondered how you could share this education experience with more poeple.

Attending a reunion of many classes like this gave me a chance to consider the essential character of the people who get a chance to be educated in this way. What is common amongst the Swarthmore students of all generations? Of course the people attending reunions are a self-selecting bunch. But I was groping for a generalism. I asked a few people and broached the subject; the best common characteristic for the exemplary Swarthmore folks I know is "a capacity for sustained inquiry." But that applies to many people who didn't attend that school.

In the end we're all just people passing time and stimulating ourselves. Along those lines, I ended up in the wee hours of the last night in a stone building overtaken by SWIL. SWIL is the "Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature" a student group somewhere between Science Fiction and Scottish Folk Dance, with loads of gaming and heaps of specific jokes between. I had played my first game of Settlers of Catan on their tables, lead by Fred Bush, earlier that day, while upstairs, other Swillies sang rounds.

At 2am, I found a group of them, a few under blankets, gathered in a small room, playing abstract Charades. Abstract because you could be asked to pantomime anything. I'm used to Charades more strictly defined: only movies, or only b-grade celebrities. Here we pantomimed odd bits including dung beetles, vanilla coke, and "Shock and Awe."

It was hilarious. And perfect for the end of the night. The last I had seen of the remnants from the class of 1978, I had helped two '78 ladies up to the Beirut table where they were swilling lite beer and tossing ping-pong balls with the drunkards who were just young enough to be their kids.

Towards 3.30am, when the evening was grinding me down and I was still unable to think of entertaining stumpers for abstract Charades, I was still delighting in the somber antics of one long haired, long faced silent mime with excellent gestures, Fred Bush, or Jim silently acting out all of Dungeons and Dragonsing himself. During one group collapsing laugh session, one of the SWIL folk (maybe it was Melissa?) announced, "See, we don't need alcohol. We're like this all the time!" She directed her remarks at me, I think, the garnet-eyed stranger.

A student inspired by Claes Oldenburg made a giant adirondack chair to sit amidst the people-sized ones. People climbed on it until it broke, then the maintenance crew banded together to make a stronger model. Now it sits as a functional climbing structure on the broad lawns of the college.
The alumni were given a tour of the "_____ Science Center" (hint, your name could appear in the blank!). A marvel of environmental engineering featuring outdoor chalk board surfaces, integrated gardens, a sushi bar, and an elevator designed to integrate three buildings with four different floors. How to label buttons for such an elevator? After wrestling with letter choices (does C mean classrooms or common room?) a science faculty member suggested numerical accuracy in floor naming. Hence, the buttons on the elevator read: 0.0, 0.2, 1.0, 1.2 and 2.0.
Wilson and Karina of SAME (responsible for the Las Vegas Fashion Show in February) stand at a folding table setup in a dormitory basement for a session of Beirut, a game where players enable each other to drink. Toss a ping-pong ball in someone else's glass, and they have to swill lite beer.
Fred Bush towers over the hexagons set up for a game of Settlers. The game took place in the Women's Resource Center, which had wild pagan murals behind the gaming geeks gathered for the weekend.
Tracy takes a late-night swing at her friend Carlo? wearing a SAME shirt, decorated with a butt-kicking mama whose name I have forgotten.
Wilson made up some shirts especially for the reunion, especially for our year, and then he went around passing them out at random. They were tough t-shirts, meant to provoke. Here, Wilson and Charlie appear in "1998, Bitch" tees surrounding Swarthmore President Al Bloom. Bloom is a socializer par excellence; he took it all in stride.
There was a decal of Monty Burns from the Simpsons, in his bondage getup. This was pasted on the window of my small room of Wharton dormitory.
Swarthmore Professor of History and long-time online publisher Tim Burke stands in his home-office near his collections of toys and books and geektastic finery. At my feet galloped his red-headed daughter; I wish I had a good picture of her. Her favourite toy is the grimacing, growling Sauron plastic doll. Her mother points out, "He's evil, honey." She smiles and puts her hand to her face, "But I made him good!"
What does a forested amphitheatre look like by night? Like this photo, but in color.
swat | life

justin's links by justin hall: contact