• Reunion 2006: Dartmouth Alumni Reconnect in Record Numbers

    Tuesday, July 11, 2006
    News Type

Every day boxes rolled down the ramp of the UPS truck in front of Blunt Alumni Center—water bottles, backpacks, lanyards, Pepperidge Farm single-packs. Seas of green rain jackets formed under white tents on sodden days; the aroma of grilled food salted the air on sunny days. Alumni returned from Singapore, New Zealand, Iceland, and all points in between; panel discussions filled rooms; children bungee-jumped on Chase Field; an alumna accepted in her new name the diploma earned when she was a he; hungry crowds cracked 1,935 lobsters; and people bunked in all available rooms, including the Lodge and the River cluster, conking out on cots if need be.

With its spring events just ended and fall events still to come, Dartmouth Reunion 2006 has already topped the record for reunion attendance in a single year, bringing 4,607 people to Hanover in May and June. (The previous record of 4,575 people was set in 2000.) Five other attendance highs have also already been reached:

  • most people overall at a 60th reunion—Class of 1946;
  • most alumni at a 50th reunion—Class of 1956;
  • most alumni at a 30th reunion—Class of 1976; and
  • most alumni and most people overall at a 20th reunion—Class of 1986.

Nearly half (295 members) of the Class of 1956 returned. “We wanted to set an all-time record,” saysreunion chair Linc Spaulding '56, and so they did, undaunted by the rain that began before their event began on Friday, June 9, and seldom let up until the sky rained itself out just before Commencement on Sunday morning.

“It was really a super reunion,” says Spaulding, crediting the Dog Pound and Kennelmates '56 reunion committees for making it “a real happening.”

“It was a good thing we ordered lightweight, all-weather jackets, because people were living in them,” says Spaulding. (Might want to jot that down, future reunion chairs.)

“But the rain, working in perverse fashion, had a great benefit,” says Spaulding. “It drove everyone together. The big thing that came through was the renewal of friendship and the closeness of classmates that people weren't really appreciative of before.

 “You walk into a tent the first time, you haven't seen some of these guys in 50 years—it's very rewarding,” he adds. “I've got a ton of friends, sure, but if I'm ever in trouble up to my armpits, I'd feel most comfortable calling a '56. We're best friends.”

Controlled Chaos

The Classes of 1946, 1951, 1956, 1961, 1966, 1971, 1976, 1981, 1985-1987, and 2001 all returned for Reunion 2006 spring events. In addition to attending many College-sponsored programs—the athletics breakfasts, the campus architecture tours, the deans panel on the convergence of engineering, science, medicine, and business—they put together an energetic variety of their own activities, reflecting Dartmouth's irrepressibly diverse intellectual spirit and sense of family.

It was wall-to-wall 1940s in Room 109 of Rauner Library, in an exhibit curated by Tom Adams '46 and archival specialist Barbara Krieger. Vintage issues of Jacko and the Pictorial, as well as Winter Carnival posters, the Aegis, photographs, a timeline, and printed pieces from the schedule for freshman orientation right up to the 1946 Commencement program turned the room into yesteryear. The exhibit was crowned with the carnival queen's tiara.

The Class of 1961 fellowship students Manya Whitaker '06 and Erin Rumsey '06 presented their neuropsychology research, the Class of 1976 screened movies by classmates Jamie Hampton and Paul Lazarus at Loew Theater, and a hundred members of the Class of 1981 sipped wines from Burgundy in a tasting led by classmate Steve Pignatiello, certified sommelier and wine importer. Cheers!

The Big Green Field of Dreams attracted 2,500 people, including 900 children, from the Classes of 1981 and 1985-1987 on Chase Fields for controlled chaos with potato sacks, bungee cords, and giant slides to the sounds of the Kevin Connolly Band. The most popular activities? The three-legged and spoon races.

And “it was a huge year for lobster bakes,” says Carmen Allen, executive chef of Dining Services, which served more lobster this year than any other.

Investing in Others 

For many alumni, probably the heart and soul of Reunion is simply getting together to talk about their lives, the life of Dartmouth, and broader issues. The spring Reunion classes did this in many ways.

Even at the daunting hour of 8 am, members of the Class of 1986 filled Hinman Forum for a panel discussion by seven classmates titled “How Did We Get Here, and Where Can We Go?”

The discussion “was not 55 minutes about achievements,” says class president Jeff Weiss, who organized the panel with class Webmaster John Marchiony. “Our class is more diverse than that. We were interested less in ‘What have you done?' than in ‘What have you learned? What's been meaningful?'” says Weiss.

The panelists were Jayne Daigle Jones, varsity basketball star while at Dartmouth, now raising six children; Paul Hochman, sports gear and technology editor for NBC's  Today Show; John Hueston, lead trial attorney in United States v. Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who spearheaded the investigation of Lay; Dan Katzir, managing director of the Broad Foundation, who works with school districts, universities, corporations, and community organizations to improve leadership in urban schools; Elizabeth McClintock, managing partner of CMPartners, who is lead facilitator

and program designer for a leadership training program for the newly integrated military in Burundi; William Rodgers III,  professor of public policy at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and chief economist of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University; and Laura Sankey, vice president of marketing communications and advertising at Qwest Communications.

After introducing themselves in different ways, including a poem and a benediction, the 1986 classmates ranged far and wide in discussing questions such as, “Who in this room would you trade places with?” Individually and together they offered the view that Robert Frost's “The Road Not Taken” can be mistakenly interpreted to mean that one always has a conscious choice in life; recalled moments when Dartmouth professors strongly affected them; named their spouses, teammates, and  friends as people they'd switch places with; and talked passionately about social responsibility.

“We spoke a lot about investing in others, about sacrifice, and about faith,” says Weiss.

At a breakfast organized by Martha Hennessey '76, about 35 members of Dartmouth's first class of women gathered to talk candidly about their experiences, both “difficult and wonderful,” says Hennessey. “We're all fiercely proud of the fact that we were here as the first class. When we get together, it's like we've never been apart.” 

A Class of 1956 panel on contemporary international issues included classmates Robert Barry, who received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree; Robert Flockner; Doug Keare; Clem Malin; and John van de Kamp; as well as Jim Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of PBS's NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,  who received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

Boy, Have You Changed: Joanne Herman '75

“My vision for Dartmouth is a simple one,” PresidentJames Wright '64a told a crowd of about 50 people having breakfast in the Faculty Lounge at the Top of the Hop on the last Saturday of Reunion. “I want each individual to feel part of this community as the individual he or she is, and I want Dartmouth to be a whole community, with its richness coming from the diversity of perspectives and ambitions of all its members.” 

With these words, and to joyous applause from the gathered members of the Dartmouth Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Alumni/ae Association, President Wright presented to Joanne Herman '75 in her new name the diploma she earned 31 years ago as a male graduate of Dartmouth College.

After years of denial following her parents' remonstrance when she tried to wear girls' clothes as a seven-year-old boy in the 1950s, Herman began in 1995 to explore transsexuality. In 2002, with the support of Barbara Wermeyer, her wife of 30 years, Herman transitioned through surgery and hormone treatments into a woman.“Once I read Crossing,” says Herman, referring to.the autobiography of transsexual transitioning by University of Iowa professor and highly regarded conservative economist Deirdre McCloskey, “and saw that someone could live through this and come out of it and continue to work, I said, this is me.”

Two years later, she returned to Hanover for the first time to attend a DGALA Reunion.

“I felt a lot of trepidation at first, even just walking across the Green,” she says. “But I found that Dartmouth has transformed.”

Since then, Herman has returned for the 30th Reunion of the Class of 1975 and has given lectures and taught classes for the Office of Pluralism and Leadership.  She was instrumental in influencing President Wright to consider the inclusion of “gender identity or expression” in the College's nondiscrimination policy, a change the Board of Trustees approved in its June meeting.

Herman is an accountant at the New England Foundation for the Arts in Boston, writes a column for The Advocate, and is on the board of trustees for the Point Foundation. She is trim and attractive and is highly aware that these attributes, as well as the socioeconomic status that enabled her to afford the transition process, are luxuries not shared by all.  “I use my privilege to get into spaces and then open the discussion,” she says, over the animated din of the breakfast crowd.