The 50th anniversary of my college graduation is coming in June. I was vice president of the class, so I got a call to work with the reunion planning committee. Salem State University is 15 miles north of Boston — about a three and a half hour drive from Westport, so I haven’t attended any of the committee meetings, but I did drive to the college last week to be interviewed on camera for a video that will be sent to everyone in the class.
We had 225 in the class of ’62. Now there are 178, each of whom will get a copy of the DVD sending greetings, and an appeal to contribute to the scholarship fund we’ve established.
I started at Salem State Teachers College in 1958 when tuition was $50 a semester. The following year it was raised to $100, and the name was changed to Salem State College. Last year it became Salem State University. In 1962 the total enrollment was a little less than 800. Now there are more than 10,000 students in both the undergraduate program and grad school.
Salem State has seen lots of changes, just as the members of the class of ’62 have seen changes in our own lives. Not many of us were married before graduation – I was in a small minority, having married in 1960, just before the start of junior year.
The night before filming my greetings to the class of ‘62 I visited with my daughter Sue and her husband Chip, and my grandson, Alex in their home in Carlisle, which is next to Concord. Sue and Chip had tickets to a Yo-Yo Ma concert in Boston, so Alex and I went out to dinner and I got him to tell me about his work in more detail than I’d had a chance to do before.
Alex graduated from Hampshire College last year, doing two extra semesters after changing his major to organic chemistry. I was reminded of the line in Louis Armstrong’s song, What a Wonderful World, where he says, “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, they’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know, and I say to myself, what a wonderful world.” My last confrontation with chemistry was in 1956 – 56 years ago.
Alex was patient with me, explaining what little I could understand about his work. We went back to the house and played pool, chess and cribbage, where I could keep up.
The next day, on Wednesday, Sue drove to Salem with me and we visited several of the old sites I had introduced to her when she was growing up. Some things, like Salem Willows, an amusement park, and our favorite ocean spot at Marblehead Neck, hadn’t changed at all. Some, like the immensely expanded college campus,were almost unrecognizable. It was good to have a day with Sue, in addition to the precious time with Alex.
The filming went well. Mandy Ray, director of alumni affairs, did the interview, which I talked her into doing, rather than stick with the plan to have me be a ‘talking head.’ After some brief introductory conversation I recited the Stanley Kunitz poem, The Layers, reminding my classmates that we ‘have walked through many lives, some of them our own.’ We ‘see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon,’ and we have felt the bitter sting of ‘friends who have fallen along the way.’
The reunion is June 2. I was pleased to be asked to be master of ceremonies. Life is good.