Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jerusalem, dearest

Fifty years ago, I graduated from Hamilton College. Hamilton was a small school then – our class totaled about 130 men at graduation. I certainly didn’t know everybody, but I knew who everybody was – and not just for my class – we all knew who most of the other students were.

This past weekend I attended my first reunion – the fiftieth. I had given some thought to attending other reunions – and now I regret that I never did. One reason I stayed away was that I was not in a fraternity – and not by choice – nobody wanted me. I was in a select group – 10% of my class – who were so-called “independents.” It was not until I had been out of college for ten or more years that I articulated to myself the anger at Hamilton that I felt because I had not received a bid to a fraternity. I hope to reflect more on that topic later – for now I’ll turn the page.

During my fifteen years with Rex, the occasion never arose to return to College Hill -- from 1961 to 1973 I used up all of my vacation time in annual trips to Europe. Shortly after Liz and I were married in 1975 we visited upstate New York and as part of the trip we drove through the Hamilton campus. Liz tells me she doesn’t remember that quasi-visit and I have no clear memory of it myself, so that flyby visit doesn’t really count. On June 5, 2008, I returned to College Hill for the first time in fifty years. As we pulled into the parking lot beside Emerson Hall for registration, I teared up. It really was a homecoming – I’ve not finished processing the emotions I felt and still feel about the visit.

On occasion I have observed that talking about experiences and feelings is like peeling an onion all the way down to the center. In this case, I’ll start with the most recent impressions – the end of reunion weekend –and then I expect to work backwards.

Before the class dinner Saturday evening, Liz and I went to the rehearsal of the mixed voice reunion choir – the choir sang two anthems during the Service of Remembrance on Sunday morning. I never sang while I was at Hamilton – I’m really sorry, because I might have been a better singer if I had. Sunday morning after breakfast we rehearsed again, and then came the service. My uncle Chuck, class of ‘46, came up from Binghamton for a special breakfast and the memorial service, and he and Nancy came into the chapel while we were rehearsing. Liz and I went downstairs from the gallery to greet them in the brief interval between the rehearsal and the service, spoke to them again after the service, and then joined them and two of Chuck’s contemporaries for the closing lunch. We got our money’s worth at that lunch – we both ate enough for both lunch and dinner. We did not need to eat again after we got to Heart Lake.

It was fun connecting with Chuck and Nance on the campus and at the reunion. Chuck is only 12 years older than I and I have memories of him from about the time I was 5 and he was 17 – he of course remembers me from even earlier – I was his first nephew and we have always had a special tie – which has become stronger in recent years.

When we got to the chapel for our rehearsal, the Baldwin choir – named for John Baldwin, the choir director of my time – was finishing their rehearsal of music for the choral prelude to the service. Suddenly they sang Parry’s Jerusalem (the original, with Blake’s words.) My first post on this blog in November 2006 included a story about Jerusalem at St. Mary's. That song gets to me – both the tune and the hokey Blake words – replete with English nationalism and Glastonbury legend.

The Service of Remembrance was structured like a generic Protestant worship service – complete with scripture readings – the New Testament reading was from Matthew, the beatitudes (5:1 - 12) and the light of the world (5:14 - 16.) There were psalms, prayers, and a sermon by one of my classmates. The service managed to be both worshipful and almost completely devoid of explicit Christian content. The main part of the service was the reading of the names of members of the reunion classes who had died in the past five years.

After the blessing and dismissal we all sang Carissima, Hamilton’s alma mater, written by Melancthon Woolsey Stryker, class of 1872, who was a Presbyterian Minister and President of Hamilton College from 1892 to 1917. Carissima is sung to a tune by the Italian composer Fabio Campana. (Using only internet resources, I have not found any information about the tune – Campana was a composer of operas and songs and lived from 1819 to 1882.)

As we were driving to the college, I sang Carissima to Liz, then on the Hill we sang it twice – the first time was at the Annual Meeting of the Alumni Association on Saturday. Both times I was briefly moved to tears. I cry easily, but I was surprised at my reaction to Carissima. I did notice Chuck with a handkerchief at the same point I cried.

That was the first layer of the onion of feelings and impressions about my return to Hamilton.


Chris said...

I was an undergraduate at Columbia College (your near neighbour) 1970-1974. I was so angry at them for trying to squeeze donations out of me when I didn't have enough money for rent some months that I got them to take me off their mailing list (a very difficult task, I can tell you--I got a letter from the Associate Dean about it).

Fast forward 28 years. I only kept in touch with 2 of my fellow gradulates and had never gotten communications from Columbia. As I got close to turning 50, I became very nostalgic, even though my time at Columbia was relatively wasted (as it was the early 1970's...), So I wrote to them asking to be put back on the mailing list. I then attended the 30th reunion in 2004, which was so moving and interesting that I began contributing and plan to continue to attend reunions until I'm not able to any more. Of course, Columbia's presence in New York does help make reunions attractive. I just am a bit upset with myself that I missed 5 of them.

Anonymous said...

I didn't go back to the Hill until my 25th, and I am sorry I waited so long. Last weekend was my 30th, and in the five intervening years, I've become pretty involved with Hamilton, focusing on Kirkland (the merger occurred soon after my graduation in '78).

As the years pass after graduation, somehow the thought of a return to campus seems more and more daunting.

But there is something about place, and the crucial time in our lives we were in the place, that make a visit to our colleges so poignant, so full of intense emotion, as faces and memories flood back.

To be sure, sharing this with classmates increases the intensity of the experience exponentially.

Hamilton seems to have the formula for Alumni Weekends down - a beautiful mix of nostalgia, educational programs, food and libations!