Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer of Travel 2012: Princeton NJ 1

This past weekend, I hopped on good ole NJTransit and sped took the local train down to Princeton to attend my 8th college reunion. Why would anyone ever go back for their 8th college reunion you ask? Well, Princeton does things different when it comes to reunions. Very different.

A quick primer:
Princeton Reunions (known affectionately to those in the know as simply "Reunions") is a weekend-long festival of orange and black that welcomes back over 20,000 alumni and guests each and every year. It is widely rumored to be the most well-attended college reunion in the world and one of the largest single orders of beer in the entire country (at least among people who talk about such things). While the best turnout is usually for the "big" years (25th, 50th), Princeton holds a "major" reunion every 5 years (5th, 10th, 15th, etc.), and there's always strong representation from each of the "off years" in between - especially in the first years out of college. Tents are setup all over campus and serve as the headquarters for each of the majors. As an off year attendee, your class is a "satellite" to the closest major (e.g. the 35th site hosts the 33rd through 37th).

The 1st through 6th are hosted at the 5th, which is far and away the largest, and rowdiest party throughout the weekend. Having served on the organizing committee for my 5th, I can attest to the beer rumors mentioned above - the 5th tent alone goes through nearly 400 kegs of beer over the course of the weekend, not to mention wine, champagne, and other adult refreshments. However, when you reach your 7th reunion, it's time to grow up and move along to the 10th - where the scenery still includes a whole lot of beer, but also a whole lot of strollers and kiddie play areas!

Entrance to the 10th Reunion
The price of entry to take part in the revelry that is Reunions weekend is a wristband. Starting with the 10th, the "major" year basically funds the party for all the "off years", so for the 2nd year in a row, my wristband was free!

Wristbanded-up and ready to go!

After wristbanding-up, it was time to get some food in me before the festivities got into full swing. While Princeton does have several very good restaurants, Reunions is all about reliving your college days as best as your no-longer-college-aged body will allow. Translation: meatball hoagies from The Wa. What is "The Wa"? You may know it by its formal name, "Wawa" - but I'll let Dunder Mifflin employee, and Wa connoisseur, Ellie Kemper '02 explain the difference:
Wawa is a Native American word for the Canada goose that lives in the Delaware Valley. Wa is a Princeton word for one of the greatest 24-hour food stores on Earth. Wow, Wa! are my words for how I feel about both one of the greatest 24-hour food stores on Earth, and the Canada goose. 
Next and last step before joining the party: dropping off my stuff. As a Reunions co-chair for my class, I can get a bed on campus for the weekend (vs. having to rely on a shuttle service to nearby hotels). While this was the ultimate hook-up in past years, I gotta say that after another night sharing a college-sized twin bed, the prospect of continuing to do so in the future is growing less and less appealing every year...

Formalities out of the way, it was time to get dressed up and head on over to the P-rade. The P-rade is my favorite part of Reunions weekend. Basically, all alumni in attendance take turns marching down the center of campus, wearing the most hideous beautiful orange and black outfits / costumes you could possibly imagine. As each class marches down, every other class stands along the side of the parade route, cheering and occasionally - when no one is looking - taking a sip or two of beer. The 25th reunion always starts things off, and so the 1987 banner was escorted down the street by the Princeton University band:

The Princeton University Band leads the way for the 25th Reunion
'87 is known for doing things up right when it comes to Reunions. At their 20th, Blues Traveler provided the entertainment (here's a video I took back then), and for their 25th they kicked things up another several notches, bringing in Joan Jett and Bon Jovi to play! Adding to the star power of the weekend, Brooke Shields '87 was in attendance, marching in the P-rade, and participating in alumni panels as well. Setting the bar high for future classes, to say the least!

After the 25th, the remaining class march in chronological order. This year, the oldest returning alumni was from the class of 1925! If you really want your mind warped, back when he marched as a senior, the oldest returning alum was from the 1860s!

The crowd always goes wild for the oldest alums

Malcolm Warnock '25 - 107 years young this month!
Each year you move further and further up the hill, as a new graduating class is added to the end of the route. For '04, the march is getting longer and longer - but it's always great fun seeing friends and colleagues from older years pass by, and then passing the younger years when our turn comes.

The Great Class of 2004
After the P-rade, and before the last night of partying begins, it's time for the fireworks. Another Reunions tradition, the fireworks show is a truly impressive display, especially when you remember that this isn't 4th of July or New Year's Eve, it's a college reunion. The 20-minute display puts many small, medium, and even some large cities to shame:

Princeton knows how to do fireworks right
This year, we watched from the backyard at the Ivy Club, so had a nice little soundtrack throughout the show:

After the fireworks, it was back to the tents! Most people like to hop around to different tents over the course of a night at Reunions. In fact, some of my favorite times over the years have been at tents other than the 5th or the 10th. This year though, the 10th had a 90s cover band that I just couldn't get enough of (showing my age here). The energy was awesome, the crowd was loving it - and they played a LOT of my favorite songs from the mid-late 90s (Weezer, Chili Peppers, Blink 182, The Proclaimers!, Eve 6, etc, etc). The surprise Papa John's delivery of a mountain of cheese pizzas (another staple from my college days) to the 10th tent didn't hurt either!

The next day, as has become tradition for a number of my friends, we gathered for a post-Reunions brunch. This year, we went to the Princetonian Diner. It was my first time there, and my order was fine - some sort of egg, sausage, cheese, potatoes, etc. skillet. Others were less enthused. Word to the wise: don't order the "crab meat eggs benedict" at a diner on the side of a highway.

As the alumni packed up to head back to the real world, crews were already hard at work, turning campus over to get ready for the graduation activities that begin that same day:

Getting ready for graduation festivities
I've never not had an amazing time at Reunions, and I'm already looking forward to Reunions 2013!


  1. Someone had special access to the tiger stripes wristband! Was that a frequent flyer miles perk?

  2. Haha - sadly there are no frequent attendance points for Reunions, I'd be building up quite a stash right now!