I had my fifteenth Amherst reunion this weekend. I had a great college experience for the most part - interesting classes, good professors, good friends, lots of fun and hi-jinks. Amherst played a huge part in making me the adult that I am today. I've been a loyal alumnus, giving and raising money, advocating for the college and faithfully attending reunions. At my tenth reunion I had a brand new baby and was more focused on her than the college or the goings-on. This time I went alone, Abby didn't join me until dinner time on Saturday and the girls stayed home. So I had some time to look around and observe.
Amherst and nearby Northampton are quintessential college towns. Downtown Amherst is fairly vibrant, certainly fewer closed stores than Newton or Wellesley, and the town does a great job using its town green as a magnet for activity. There was a big craft fair and a farmer's market while I was there. Sadly, I'd say half or more of the bookstores are gone from my time there. Someday there will be a college town with no bookstores at all, and that will be sad. My brother and sister alumni will appreciate that Antonio's remains and is still excellent. Northampton was a bit more rundown, missing several of my old haunts and way over-restauranted. I had a latte at the Haymarket Cafe, where I had my first ever espresso beverage in 1991, the same night I saw Slacker for the first time. Amherst and Northampton remain full of interestingly dressed and decorated hipsters, many very attractive young people and, for 2009, a shocking number of smokers.
Amherst has physically transformed itself in the past decade. I stayed in Charles Pratt, my former house of pain as a geology major, now an artfully and spectacularly transformed dormitory. I was literally agog at the building for the first twenty minutes I was there. The new geology building is well designed
for Amherst's special kind of research-based undergraduate science education, and the natural history collections are just beautifully displayed. Other dorms looked great too. I do miss the old Valentine Hall, the dining hall, with its strange little rooms each with its own character. I ate in East, with the radio people, the hipsters, the theater people, the self-described "Korean Posse" and the smokers. It is now the fancy faculty dining room. I gawked in the window of the radio station, but could not gain entry, which I would have been excited about. A lot of my best times at Amherst happened in or because of WAMH, 89.3 FM.
Slowly Getting Older, and Older Still
Five years ago we were overrun with strollers and pregnant women. This year we had to run our own childcare program because we had so many 3-5 year olds. There were about 115 alumni, about 90 spouses and friends and probably 50 little kids. We are not an especially quickly balding group, but definitely a graying one. And we can still put away a ton of beer. We have lost one classmate in the past five years, to a car accident, and we raised our glasses to a brave alumnus now serving with the US Army in Iraq.
We were fewer in numbers this year than five years ago (typical for 15th reunions, my friends in the development office tell me) so I saw somewhat more of the older alumni, mostly men (Amherst didn't go co-ed until 1976) and chatted with them a little bit. They love the place, warts and all, and mostly forgive its good and not so good changes over the years. There is a certain camaraderie among them that I think is a product of being at a men's college, and of their eras, that we will all have a harder time sustaining. Still, when I went out this morning, I saw that the late night crowd had dragged most of the chairs out of our party tent and arranged them in an array of little circles, all across the freshman quad, a universe of acquaintances renewed.