Pioneer Yale classes of ’71, ’72, and ’73 innovate anew with cluster reunion

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Kurt Schmoke ’71 spoke at the inaugural cluster reunion of the Yale College Classes of 1971–1973 held on campus Oct. 1–3.

“Ours were the first three classes to have women, a profoundly important milestone for both the university and society as a whole,” observes Andrea DaRif ’73, ’74 M.F.A. about the Yale College Classes of 1971-1973. “We also experienced May Day, the turmoil of the Vietnam War, and the Black Power movement. Those experiences were powerful forces on our lives, and I think they shaped all of us who were here.”

DaRif was among the more than 200 alumni, family, friends, and guests who came to New Haven and campus Oct. 1-3 for the first joint, mini-reunion of three sequential Yale College classes. Their gathering was also innovative, as it was held during term time with current students on campus, unlike the quinquennial class reunions held after commencement.

According to Nina Glickson ’73, many alumni “commented on how great it was to see people from surrounding classes” since “that opportunity never presents itself with Yale’s regular five-year reunions.” Glickson said, “There are advantages to each type, although this gave everyone who came a chance to really re-kindle some connections/friendships — clearly, very close friends will stay in touch anyway, but this was not just close friends staying in touch. Some of the conversations took on a slightly different angle with the addition of folks from three classes. This was particularly rewarding, I think, for some of the women; I know that was great for me.”

“Not simply a place, an extraordinary community”

DaRif added: “We wanted to do it during the school year so the experience would not just celebrate our time at Yale, but also provide a chance for our classmates to see the Yale of today, and interact with current students. The idea was that reflecting on old memories would be enriched by seeing the exciting things going on here on the campus these days, and the passions of today’s young people. In essence, what we wanted everyone to take away from event was a renewed sense of Yale being not simply a place, but an extraordinary community of people.

“We hoped it would be a meaningful reminder of how the university is about forging special friendships the intellectual curiosity inspired by peers and professors, and how those gifts last a lifetime,” she continued. “We wanted our classmates to feel that being part of the traditions of the past and the hope for the future is something to keep celebrating for years to come.”

The reunion included presentations about campus and community highlights of the past. Sam Chauncey ’57, a top adviser to then-Yale president Kingman Brewster, spoke about May Day at Yale and in New Haven in 1970. Barry Scheck ’71 also talked about the tumultuous days of spring 1970, while Pat Pinnell ’71 presented a multimedia exhibit of news stories and videos.

Participants also had a chance to see recent changes on campus during a tour of renovated residential colleges guided by Davenport Master Richard Schottenfeld ’71 and Steve Kieran ’73, an architect whose firm designed the renovations of Morse and Stiles Colleges.

The renaissance of New Haven, and Yale’s partnership with its hometown, was another reunion focus. Michael Morand ’87, Yale’s deputy chief communications officer, offered a presentation on the city’s renewal over the last 45 years. This was followed by a look at student entrepreneurs whose venture creations are having a positive impact in New Haven and beyond, presented by Yale Entrepreneurial Institute Director James Boyle, School of Management Professor Kyle Jensen, and Morand saluted alumni who have been longstanding residents and civic activists in greater New Haven, including Constance Royster ‘72, Kay Hill ‘72, Carl Amento ‘72, and John Lapides ‘72, as well as those farther from campus like Deborah Rose ‘72, Rob Bildner ‘72, and Kurt Schmoke ‘71, who have been ongoing champions and supporters for Yale’s engagement with the community.

Schmoke, a student leader on campus who later became a trustee of Yale and the mayor of Baltimore, was among the classmates who reflected on their days as students and their lives since, giving the Friday evening keynote address. Howard Dean ‘71, Frances Beinecke ‘71, and Steven Brill ’72 were other speakers at the reunion who led conversations about the role alumni of the era have played in the public sphere.

Alumni took full advantage of the fact that they met during the height of academic year. Current students joined alumni for lunch to offer their perspectives on campus life today, while current administrators led a panel discussion on the role now of residential colleges and top issues and challenges for student life, admissions, and academics.

Chance to meet current students a “major draw”

“Having the opportunity to meet Yale students, faculty and administrators while Yale was in session was a major draw and the primary reason we chose to hold this reunion in the fall. We brought in students from a variety of backgrounds and interests at Yale to meet our classmates — this was a big hit,” according to Bildner, who first raised the idea of a multi-class mini-reunion at the Yale alumni association in November 2014 with fellow alumni volunteer leaders DaRif and Andy Kaufman ‘71.

Bildner chaired the event’s planning committee with Pinnell, Andrew Capitman ’72, Royster, DaRif, and Glickson, and was part of the steering committee with Kaufman, Katy Lewis ’71, William Fowkes ’72, Frank Krejci ’72, DaRif, Roger Rosenthal ’72, and Al Shamash ’73.

The engagement with students, administrators, and faculty offered opportunities to explore the horizons of teaching and learning in Yale’s future, as well. University Librarian Susan Gibbons shared how the library is shaping scholarship in the 21st century, Laurence Canter and gallery guides offered insights on how the Yale University Art Gallery engages with the curriculum and the community, Yale Center for Teaching and Learning Executive Director Jennifer Frederick presented some of the innovative learning processes deployed by faculty, and Center for Engineering Innovation and Design Director Vincent Wilczynski and students led tours of the new center.

“Every event was a highlight in its own right,” Royster commented. At the top of her list was a Women’s Reception held before the Friday evening dinner. “It was a historic gathering of Yale’s first women undergraduates — an extraordinary group who deserve to be celebrated,” she said.

The alumni who participated in this first, cluster reunion of classes during the school year trust it will be an event replicated by other classes. “From the comments we received from classmates, the sense of being part of the traditions of the past and the hope for the future is something that really resonated with everyone throughout the three days and is something to keep celebrating for years to come,” DaRif noted. “One person even said it was the best alumni function she had ever been to.”

Bildner added, “I have never heard so many positive comments from classmates about attending an event at Yale, including the joy of seeing old friends and meeting new ones across classes, the excitement of hearing from current students about life at Yale and the quality of our presentations.”

Royster concurred: “The reactions have been universally positive, many attendees mentioning how healing the reunion was. These three classes are bound together by common experience born of great change at Yale, in the country, and in the world — coeducation, May Day, Viet Nam War, the draft, Cambodia, Kent State, and a Yale employee strike. Being together as a cohort after more than 40 years was moving for the individual alums, and an important step for Yale. Some alums had not been back to any reunion at all, but came to this one.”