End of my reunion

The last day of my reunion, Saturday, ended with two activities. First, there was an LGBT Reception over at Barnard. I didn’t go 5 years ago for some reason (I think it was double booked with something else) but as my friend Thom Chu CC’89 from Integrity/New York was going to be there as his only reunion activity, I had to be there too.

I had some trouble finding the venue, as the room where it was held had the same name as a Barnard building. Found it finally, and there was Thom in the corner. Here we are, with Thom looking wonderful.

We connected, and listened to a few LBGT alumni and staff talk about what it was and is like to be lesbian, gay, or transgendered at Columbia and Barnard. When I was there, of course, there was the Gay Lounge in the basement of Furnald Hall, and those of us in the closet (among whom I include myself at that time) never darkened its door. I do remember going to the sauna room in Furnald basement and watching as three guys came into the locker room next to the sauna, took all their clothes off and put them in lockers, and returned to the Gay Lounge. I was too scared at that time to come out. Oh, well, crying over unspilt milk is not useful.

After this I went over to the Library at Casa Italiana, where our class dinner was. There were various class pictures, one of which was with spouses. The photographer, as he could not read my nametag, wanted me to move in a bit so he yelled, “Hey, Moustache!” to get my attention. Various classmates have beards, but I am the only one who showed who actually has only a moustache (I guess they’re out of fashion now). So from then on I was “Hey, Moustache!” to a subset of classmates who felt that was funny. I wanted to opt out of the picture with spouses, but was not allowed to. Next time I think I’ll bring Wai-Liang.

I had a long discussion with the guest speaker, Professor Gareth Williams who (as you might surmise from his name) is Welsh. He also has some experience around the Elephant and Castle, so we discussed the Elephant and London and British politics. We then sat down to dinner, which was beef tenderloin with various veggies and mashed potato, and was very good. Prof. Williams then gave his speech:

During the talk I learned to my delight that Prof. Williams is a classicist, so after dinner we had a good talk about the Classics Department (where I spent four years) and how the number of Latin and Greek majors has increased dramatically from the 5 or 6 who graduated from Columbia College and Barnard combined in 1974. I discovered (and, sadly, just confirmed) that Prof. Helen Bacon, my Greek professor from Barnard, died a couple of years ago at the age of 88. Prof. Bacon was extremely erudite, a great teacher, and a wonderful personality. It was she who told us how we can reconstruct the pronunciation of Ancient Greek (?? representing the call of an ancient lamb was pronounced “beh” by ancient Greeks but is pronounced “vee” by modern Greeks, is one example). I also discovered that Prof. Peter Pouncey, my academic advisor 1970-1972 and Dean of Columbia College for the last two years I was there is still kicking around the College, has taught courses and is quite as gruff as his age and position would merit.

That night I stayed in a room in Carman Hall. Those who were at the College 5 years before me called it “New Hall”, and apparently it was only named after Dean Harry Carman after the latter’s death at the beginning of 1965. When I went there, almost all freshmen who were not residents of the New York metropolitan area lived in that dorm. I liked it so much (en suite bathrooms) that I stayed for three years and only moved to Furnald in my senior year.

In the event, the rooms are somewhat the same as those I lived in, but much better. There is high-speed internet access in all rooms (memo to self: bring a cable in 2014 as there is no WiFi in the dorms), air conditioning (with new insulating windows) in the rooms, lo-flow toilets in the bathrooms (the showers haven’t been touched, though), access keycards rather than keys to the outside door and the inner suite door, and in addition to a TV in the end-of-the-hall lounge there is a refrigerator and a microwave. These students are now living in the lap of luxury.

Here are some pictures of the room:

The beds have been replaced but the new ones are as lumpy and uncomfortable as the old ones. I guess that generations of student rumpy-pumpy does take a toll on the bedding.

The toilets come with instructions for flushing both #1 and #2:

The view from the room window overlooks Broadway going south:

There was a wonderful view over the centre of the campus from the elevator lobby on the 15th floor:

The large domed building in the centre is the university administration building, originally constructed as a library thus named “Low Library”. A corner of the current library, Butler, is in the lower right-hand corner of the photo. There is a smudge on the window at lower-centre of the picture—ignore, please OKTHXBYE.

So, after the class dinner I snuck out of Casa Italiana, walked back to my room, and slept. The next day I checked out and returned to and KK’s place for the rest of my time in New York. I’ll blog about all that tomorrow.

I do want to reflect yet again on reunions and on university education. I graduated from Columbia with a gentleman’s B-. I wasted much of my time there, which at present makes me very sad indeed. I drank too much, ate too much, studied too little, cut classes too often, and generally did not take advantage of the wonderful resource that a university is. The general feeling of our class, discussing what Columbia College now is, was that we would probably not be admitted were we to apply today as teenagers. I’m not so sure of that, of course, but reunions give me that feeling of having had something worth a great deal and squandering it, letting water run off into the dirt rather than drinking it.

I know that I will never again have such an opportunity in my life. It is opportunities like this that make me wistfully hope that the Buddhist belief in reincarnation were true.

What makes me feel a bit better is that the students at Columbia today are hard-working, very talented, able and willing to not only take what the university has to offer but also to offer to the university and their fellow students what they themselves have to offer. In a way, I hope that their industriousness will make up a little bit for my indolence.

In lumine tuo videbimus lumen!

4 Responses to “End of my reunion”

  1. spwebdesign says:

    I’m glad to hear Pouncey is still kicking about.

    memo to self: bring a cable in 2014 as there is no WiFi in the dorms

    I’m sure there will be by then!

    I wasted much of my time there, which at present makes me very sad indeed.

    I often feel this way, as I’m sure do many. But when I reflect further I tell myself that what I learned that was of most value wasn’t the academic learning. We can always pick up a book, probe the internet, or take a class to learn specific things. But I like to think that it was the things we learned outside of the classroom that were of most value. That way maybe the drinking and partying and class-cutting don’t seem such a waste. (And I’ve done a horrible job of trying to articulate this, so it probably makes no sense.)

  2. rsc says:

    My brother lived in New Hall when it was really new. (He graduated in 1964.)

  3. chrishansenhome says:

    So this was one of his reunion years (4’s and 9’s have their reunions together).

  4. rsc says:

    Which, as far as I know, he completely ignored.