Dateline: Stanford University
What’s going through my head is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies from early in the show as the ex-Follies girls gather for their reunion among the ghosts of their past selves. Dimitri Weissman, the producer says ‘…a final chance to glamorize the old days, stumble through a song or two and lie about ourselves a little. I have, as you can see, spared no expense. Still, there’s a band, free food and drink, and the inevitable Roscoe, here as always, to bring on the Weissman girls’. I’ve gotten old enough now to understand that show, the double meaning in the title and, as I finish up my long weekend on Campus for my 35th college reunion, understand more than ever the idea of the ghosts of our past selves occupying the same temporal space when a reunion occurs.
I’ve spent the last few days in a bit of cognitive dissonance. Surely my Stanford years were only about ten years ago rather than nearly forty. It doesn’t seem like it could have been that long. How can the campus have changed so much? Where are some of my familiar landmarks? As I wandered the campus looking at old dorms, old classrooms, and all sorts of other things firmly imprinted on my past, I was operating with a mental map that’s decades out of date. The east side of campus in particular has been wholly redone – no physics tank, no Albers wall. The chemistry building in which I did my undergraduate research completely gone. The main chemistry building, which was an island in a sea of green lawns, now hemmed in by any number of new massive structures devoted to advanced sciences and computing.
There’s something about the air and the light of the mid-Peninsula that is unique. Everytime I’ve ever been back I’ve felt it. There’s a mild golden haze, an undertone of eucalyptus in the air and the breeze coming in off the bay with the promise of saltwater and the slight decay of marshes that takes me immediately back to my younger self. Standing in the quad, I could close my eyes and breathe and suddenly feel the person I used to be once upon a time, back when the world was full of infinite possibilities, back before roads were taken, partners met, and age began to take its toll. Maybe I can bottle it somehow and keep it at home and when things get to crazy, just breathe it in as some sort of primitive aromatherapy.
Stanford has changed how they do alumni reunions. It’s no longer an every class for itself kind of thing, it’s now a big blow out weekend every year and all the classes get invited back every five. So, this year, it’s all the class years ending in four and in nine. Huge parties, pavilions everywhere. Lots of food and drink. For the class of 84, lots of late 50s on the cusp on retirement and grandparenthood coping with elderly parents and the existential questions of did I make the right choices? Am I happy in my life? What did Stanford as a launching pad mean for me and my life? Sitting around tables, drink in hand, listening to snatches of conversation ‘running the American division of multinational conglomerate’…’senior hedge fund manager’…’redoing the vacation house in Vail’ it’s easy to feel entirely inadequate and then people ask about you and your life and are amazed that I’ve been able to find a balance between medicine and theater and that I’ve continued to write in one way or another and a few, who are Facebook friends tell me that my musings over the last year and a half have really helped them understand their issues better and you feel maybe you did make some good choices along the way.
I’ve run into a lot of people I haven’t seen since the 1980s and have gotten my spiel down to an elevator speech of ‘medical school, academic clinical geriatrician, two husbands, widowed twice, no kids, back to theater in my 40s’ which seems to cover most of the basics. It’s interesting to hear other peoples variations on this, compare it with what you thought might have happened to them over the years and then move on to the next. The alumni folk, having it down to a science, equipped us all with very large font name tags so we don’t have to guess. I’d say my friend/peer group is mainly not here as I seem to only know about 10% if that of the 84s. Must be the Econ majors that have turned up in full force.
I registered and got my swag on Thursday morning and then met Craig Mollerstuen for lunch. We were roommates three out of four years. (The fourth was the year we weren’t guaranteed on campus housing so we had some very odd wandering around…) The two of us went on a nostalgia walking tour looking at old dorms and the like and catching up on each others lives. Then it was the big fancy dinner party for everyone in the main quad. Boeuf Bourgingon, Salmon, Roasted Brussell Sprouts, too many drinks and joined by Elizabeth Chavela Bryant. She’s actually class of 85 but she wanted to hang. Friday, various reunion panels. mini lectures highlighting what the University is up to, dinner with Vickie Rozell and then the class of 84 party at a restaurant in Palo Alto. This morning, after breakfast where we added Renee Fallon to the mix, the theater folk all got together on stage at Memorial Auditorium. It was nice to see some of the old time faculty and staff who are still around like Bill and Barbara Cleveland and Paul Strayer. Bill Eddelman, who was my musical theater professor back in the day, turned up and I got to thank him for my life. He wrote the letter of recommendation that was probably the one that was most responsible for getting me into medical school.
I did not go to the football game this afternoon. Sitting in the sun in an open stadium for hours just didn’t appeal. Instead, more walking, a trip to the Stanford Museum and Shopping Center and then back to Vickie’s house where I’m busy typing away at this and a couple of other projects.
I won’t tag everyone I ran into this weekend or sought out as it would take me too long and I would inevitably forget someone important. You all know who you are and I’m grateful to have seen you and hope it’s not quite so long until our paths cross in person again.