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Location: TUCSON, Arizona, United States

Friday, October 31, 2008

Stanford University hosts reunions for its graduating classes every October. It was the 50th this year for my class of 1958. I attended. My daughter Megan came with me. I expected a mildly boring event characterized by a good deal of forced camaraderie and the 
pretense of recollecting people you’d long since forgotten. That was what I remembered of our 40th reunion, which my son Jon had attended with me ten years ago. I was wrong. The weekend was lively, emotionally satisfying, and even instructive. Saturday after
noon of reunion weekend always features the diversion of a home football game. We went to that, too. To everyone’s surprise, Stanford beat Arizona, adding an unexpected note of triumph to the whole activity.

So what made this one different? The big, round number 50 had to be a factor. We all of us expect in a lifetime to live through a 50th anniversary of this or that. Few experience 100 of anything. So the 50th attracted a crowd of at least 400 survivors from the 900 or so that sat in Frost Amphitheater with me on the occasion of our commencement that June of 1958. It was hot. My wife was pregnant with what proved to be our son Jon, born that August. In addition to the pull of the number 50 we have to add curiosity. Will anyone there remember me? Will I recognize anyone? Finally, there’s the comparison-factor: how have they aged?I met a few classmates who had fared poorly, suffering strokes, for example. I met some people I remembered. But I found it most affecting to be greeted with detailed and enthusiastic descriptions of events and comments of which I had no recollection at all. The experience dramatized the selective character of memory. We construct our lives by choosing to embody particular actions and relations. I became aware of many such choices I’d made in those college years, and I welcomed the recollections others brought me. 

Food-service work at Stanford was called “hashing.” 

Of the jobs I did to pay room and board, I enjoyed the friendships amongst hashers the most. One of the people I hashed with, Sam Courtney, paid me a singular compliment by announcing, when we met, that he decided to attend the reunion primarily because he noticed—in the biographic l volume compiled from our submissions—that I was coming. “You’re the only person I’ve ever know who did exactly what he said he’d do,” Sam said. “In our last conversation before leaving campus I asked you what you planned for your life and you said, ‘I’m going to be a professor of philosophy.’ And that’s just what you did.” This was a revelation to me. I’m grateful to Sam for having brought me something of myself I was unaware of having lost. I wish you all such a gift…