Possibly the best thing ever written about being a student in a university is this excerpt from This Side of Paradise by Princeton drop-out F. Scott Fitzgerald:
"The grass is full of ghosts tonight." "The whole campus is alive with them." They paused by Little and watched the moon rise, to make silver of the slate roof of Dodd and blue the rustling trees. "You know," whispered Tom, "what we feel now is the sense of all the gorgeous youth that has rioted through here in two hundred years.... And what we leave here is more than class; it's the whole heritage of youth. We're just one generation-- we're breaking all the links that seemed to bind us here to top-booted and high-stocked generations. We've walked arm and arm with Burr and Light-Horse Harry Lee through half these deep-blue nights." "That's what they are," Tom tangented off, "deep-blue-- a bit of color would spoil them, make them exotic. Spires, against a sky that's a promise of dawn, and blue light on the slate roofs-- it hurts... rather--" "Good-by, Aaron Burr," Amory called toward deserted Nassau Hall, "you and I knew strange corners of life.”
Fitzgerald was right. When you go back for a reunion, whether it is a college or high school class or a family reunion, you will meet a lot of ghosts. You meet the ghost of yourself as you used to be. You may even meet the ghost of the self you might have been. You meet the ghosts of those you knew and loved (and sometimes those you didn't even like) and are no longer here.
The weight of history in a place like Harvard can be a bit overwhelming. Eight U.S. presidents have graduated from Harvard, starting with John Adams (Class of 1755) and ending with Barack Obama (Harvard Law School '91). And they weren't all Democrats: George W. Bush received his MBA from Harvard in 1975.
The 35th is considered a "major reunion" by the alumni office, so they have given us accommodations in the dorms, except Harvard doesn't exactly have dorms. From sophomore through senior year, the great majority of undergrads live in one of twelve "houses." I was in Lowell House, and they were kind enough to put me in Lowell for this reunion. In fact, I'm next door to the suite where I lived for two years. Don't get the wrong idea: the accommodations are hardly palatial. Harvard goes more for charm and tradition than comfort and convenience.
I'm on nostalgia overload right now. I can look out the window at the dining hall where I was in charge of the Lowell House spring opera in 1977.
Tomorrow is Commencement. I wish all the graduates great success and hope that they realize that in just a couple of days they will be coming back here for their 35th reunion. At least, that's the way it seems to me...