Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 2009 - 40th Reunion

To the Great Class of 1969:

We just concluded our eighth Reunion and the weather, while not perfect, was far better than had been forecast. For those of you who were unable - or not ready - to join the 30 of us who braved the changeable New England weather, you missed an opportunity to experience a meeting of the minds and now must wait, like us, another five years.

Our Class has always been made up of contrarians, and this year was no exception. In the worst attended reunion in memory, our Class turned out more than it ever had. While not everyone came back dewy-eyed about their Deerfield years, I had the feeling that those who came more out of a sense of curiosity left feeling glad they had come. There were moments this weekend when Tom O’Gara’s words resonated in my mind. Following a dinner several years ago with some of us in New York he wrote, “I am still amazed how people could seemingly pick up conversations that started decades ago”. There were signs of what Tom was referring to in our Class meeting such as when Jamie Rawles and Mark Ewing recalled John Shanholt's near disastrous experimentation with explosives or when members of the undefeated soccer team couldn’t agree on whether the team had one tie or two. There were also conversations over dinner that shed new light on the Deerfield Experience such as when Ben Walbridge humored us recounting how Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Dils caught him the night before graduation a bit worse for wear and wished they had the power to expel him.

This weekend confirmed what I believed five years ago when I stepped into the vacuum and assumed responsibility as chief friendraiser, e.g. (1) we have more that unites us than whatever may once have divided us; (2) there is something therapeutic about returning to this beautiful spot and seeing those with whom we shared our formative years; and (3) Deerfield remains for many, as Neil Jacobs said to me several years ago, the “greatest community living experience” of their lives.

Since our last reunion, I have had a chance to relive Deerfield through the lens on our son who graduated three weeks ago. As John Shanholt wrote when his daughter graduated in 2005, “Deerfield, while appearing to be the same school in the same place, is in so many ways a substantially different and better institution than the one I left in 1969”. With my son’s graduation, I can attest that it has adapted without losing its distinctive identity. In our Class meeting (which was scheduled for an hour but ran for two), I asked Frank Henry why the kids seemed so happy, and his simple answer was “co-education”.

While a variety of views were expressed in our Class meeting about our years at Deerfield, I square the circle as follows: (1) the turmoil in the larger society contributed to a sense of rebelliousness no matter where you were at the time; (2) the regimented lifestyle at Deerfield was probably not that much different from peer schools which had no better grip on how to deal with our generation; (3) the absence of girls was not unique to our Class and, in fact, was not resolved at Deerfield for another twenty years; and (4) the typical adolescent growing pains we experienced had more to do with us and less to do with Deerfield.

I learned some largely useless trivia this weekend such as (1) the benefits of volunteering for Mrs. Boyden’s Tea Committee from John Shanholt; (2) the circumstances under which the Quid eventually stepped down from David Suitor; and (3) the existence of the “17 Points” which, while they had slipped my mind, were still fresh in the memory of Frank Henry and others. I also visited for the first time the cemetery where many former faculty members are laid to rest and noticed, oddly, that my son was born on the 19th anniversary of the Headmaster’s death.

On a drizzly Sunday morning, five of us trekked over to the Brick Church for the Memorial Service. Judging from the sparse attendance, I think our Class was better represented than any other except, possibly, the Class of ’64 which included the Minister. All the names of members of the ’04 and ’09 Classes who had passed away since the last reunion were solemnly read by two members of the Class of ’04. Our Class lost four members and, with the exception of the Class of ’64, every Class before us had lost more. That’s the math that allows the life insurance companies to stay in business as well as a reason for returning.

With the unanimous support by voice vote of the attendees at the Class meeting on Saturday and by the power that is vested in me as Reunion Chair, I have appointed Tom Ehrgood, who attended his first Deerfield Reunion this year, as Program Chair for 2014. Mark your calendars for the weekend of June 13-15, 2014 and contribute to the collective memory of the Great Class of 1969. I will be looking for you under the Great Tent.

For pictures of the weekend, go to Reunion 2009.

Best wishes.