Low Expectations, High Hopes
When I attended my tenth reunion at Colgate, nobody remembered me – out of 350 college classmates, I contended for least known – and I vowed never to return. For years it was depressing to read in the alumni magazine of their successes: corporate execs and money managers; lawyers and judges; doctors and scientists; professors, filmmakers and, among the uber wealthy, one who had a campus building named after him. I’d gotten over classmate-envy, and I’d exorcised my demons, but still felt I didn’t belong.
Forty-eight years after graduation, the reminders to save the date began arriving. Moved me not. Then came requests for recent pictures and bios. I knew by the questions asked, most of which I’d be leaving blank (fraternity, advanced degrees, military service, honors and awards, children, grandchildren) what most of my classmates’ bios would look like. Mine was – well, judge for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:
Reunion Bio – Gustaf Berger
I had a chuckle when I read the recent PayScale survey that showed Colgate graduates’ earnings to be fourth highest in the nation. They may have dropped out of the top ten if they had surveyed me. I'll bet that some of you classmates earned more money in an average year than I've made in a lifetime…
By the time I'd reached forty-four, I'd been divorced twice, had two disturbed children, numerous affairs, business failures, and virtually no friends. I'd been kicked out of graduate school, fired from nine jobs, and was heading toward my first bankruptcy. I went through an addictive gambling phase, smoked marijuana all day, paid off buyers, policemen, insurance companies, and I never declared cash income on my taxes. It got worse…
I received an education at Colgate that prepared me for living and learning, not for the "excitement" of corporate life. I avoided the military and our criminal wars and found my muse later in life when I met my sweetheart, Amika. She is the love of my life, and I feel extremely lucky to have lived long enough to find her. We've been together since the turn of the century…
Three months before our 50th reunion, I received the full-color book, containing bios, pictures and memory-jogging essays. As I read about my former classmates, I reconsidered – it was free for our class, weather in June is as good as it gets – what’s to lose? I hesitated – what’s to be gained? Then I received two e-mails from former classmates touched by what I’d written. That tipped it and off I went with my sweetheart, keeping my expectations low.
Driving amidst the rolling hills, lakes, farms, and forests of Central New York, the sun high, the aroma of fresh manure and pine prodding my memory (what’s left of it), the years peeled back – then a car with a spinning red light on its roof showed up in the rear view mirror! Déjà vu? I’d gotten more than one ticket on this road during college days. This time I got off with a warning from a state policeman young enough to be my grandson. Not the first time gray hair’s made a difference.
We arrived on Thursday in time for the kickoff event, our class mixer and dinner in the Hall of Presidents, our freshman dining hall. I took a few deep breaths before entering and swam into the crowd surrounding the bar to pick up a glass of wine. While waiting, I spotted a man I recognized, took the plunge, and struck up a conversation. Talk continued for three days, as I made connections with guys I remembered (if vaguely) and those I didn’t.
We shared stories of our lives and memories of Colgate past. We laughed about those alcohol and testosterone-fueled, animal house, party weekends. We were 1500 horny males in the middle of nowhere; on those weekends 5000 other collegians, mostly women, stormed in from all over central New York. We reminisced about our favorite professors. Dr. Anthony Aveni, who spoke at our farewell dinner, was still teaching; he began his Colgate career in our sophomore year, the last teacher remaining from our time.
Throughout the weekend, we chose from approximately 90 events. We shed tears watching the documentary Broken Brotherhood: Vietnam and the Boys from Colgate. There were readings from authors, including a Pulitzer Prize winning poet; lectures on a wide variety of topics; tours; sporting events; class tents, bands and booze; a torchlight parade and fireworks. We shared somber moments during the Service of Remembrance for 40 mates no longer with us.
I was surprised by the number of classmates who commented favorably on my bio, some laughing, some touched by the honesty of the message. Seems a small thing, yet it made my entire experience special – a belated acceptance. What a difference fifty years and a few words meant, lifting me beyond my expectations to hopes fulfilled.