A few years after we graduated my friend Cary and I got to thinking that we'd like it if our friends who used to live on Wriston Quad could return to Brown for Commencement Weekend and stay together in one of the dorms we had lived in. I feared that others would find this a sentimental past-wallowing bit of nonsense, but I was wrong. Most of our friends jumped at the idea.
We dubbed ourselves "Generic Reunion" because when we needed a name to register in the housing office Cary pointed out that "we're just a generic reunion". Since 1981, a group of between 20 and 60 people from the classes of '77 - '83 has joined us back at Brown. It doesn't quite feel like a visit to Brown, because, to some degree, the same group of people we spent time with at Brown is walking around the campus; it's more a feeling of Brownadoon, the campus that exists for one weekend a year. We have a table at the Campus Dance and we have a barbecue on Saturday and we have a brunch on Sunday and some of us march in the Commencement Procession, carrying our Generic Banner.
In recent years I've had to miss the occasional Generic Reunion because it inevitably conflicts with the Midwest Morris Ale, and the core group of attendees has grown smaller in number (although the addition of children offsets that a bit). Still, I find that hanging around Brown for a weekend and spending what amounts to dormitory-hallway time with my college friends (mostly from the Brown Band) remains a compelling and relaxing and wonderful time, even more than a quarter century since I was a student at the college. Generic Reunion has also enabled me to stay in close touch with my college friends, to a much greater degree than is common.
I love Providence. I loved Brown. I wholly buy in to the alumni office myth that the college is something more than a few buildings where you lived and took classes for what is, in total, a very small bit of your life. Whenever I cross the Rhode Island border and see the Providence skyline in the distance I get the actual Victorian feeling described in the alma mater: "Our hearts swell within us with joyful emotion." Call me a sucker for sentiment.
This year it's hitting me strong that it has been a very long time indeed since I was an undergraduate. The importance I attach to Brown and to my time there makes little logical sense. But Brown was paradise to me. I loved taking classes, and going on band trips, and having what amounted to a dinner party every single evening, and staying up until two am sitting in the hallway talking away the night with my undone schoolwork at my side. I loved meeting the people I met, and learning what I did from them. In most ways, Brown was what I had been looking and hoping for until that point, what I had imagined college might be like.
So I go back to Brown, and I remember the feeling of being at Brown the way you remember what a particular pair of shoes felt like or what a particular meal tasted like. I am comfortable there, in my memories that have remained as something other than memories.