Let's see how far we've come: Reunions 2013

First of all, I want to express my love and congratulations to my friends from the Class of 2013. You've graduated, and that's no small feat. And if your next year is anything like my first year out was, it will be challenging in so many ways and to an extent you would never imagine. But when you come out on the other side (and to your first Reunion) you will be amazed and perhaps even moved by how far you've come.

I tried writing this post before I left for Reunions, but between packing for Princeton and all the last-minute work for HBS before leaving for Shanghai, I decided to hold off and give myself the extra few hours of sleep (which, in anticipation of Reunions weekend, were positively precious). But it seems waiting until after I returned to Boston was for the best--I had a nice, long train ride to soak it all in and now, as a break from packing, I have a nice hour to sit and write.

I've visited Princeton three times since I graduated: once in October, once in December, and once in March. But I hadn't really "gone back"--at least not like this. Because this time, it was for Reunions, and as the free 2012 beer koozies say, "you never forget your first."

I know I won't.

Last year at Reunions, I didn't spend enough time with the people I really cared about and I didn't take remotely good physical care of myself (if I had had more water throughout or slept just a few more hours during that 6-day Reunions-graduation marathon, I'd have felt better both physically and emotionally, and maybe even have had enough of a voice to perform at my own parents' arch for a cappella).

So I came back to Tigertown on Friday looking to "go back" and "go back" right: to live the experience I should have had last year.

A few weeks ago, I saw 'The Great Gatsby' and there was no more perfect movie/book for me to have revisited in anticipation of Reunions (and not just because of the author's affiliation with Princeton or the fact that the 5th Reunion's theme was Gatsby). "Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!"

A few months ago, I might have seen Reunions as an opportunity to repeat or relive the past. But after attending, I realize it was more about reframing the past, putting those mental pictures into new frames to hang on the walls inside my head. The best thing I did at Reunions this year was truly living in the moment (last year, I was living in the future and overwhelmed by anxiety), making sure I was living and writing a present that I would soon be proud to call a part of my past. And I genuinely believe I did what I came to do at Reunions--I didn't drink to excess, got a fair amount of sleep, and had long, meaningful conversations with two of my old professors and those close friends with whom I had the privilege of spending real, quality time (and more often than not in the form of singing).

At the end of every one of my Orange Key tours (to your potential surprise, I was a tour guide--an atypical but good one--for 3.5 years. Chew on that for a minute), I'd talk about Reunions (with a capital 'R'). After an hour of walking around campus and talking to prospective students about what four years of their life at Princeton would resemble, talking about what Princeton would become to them (and who they would become to Princeton) when they'd departed made for a perfect closure to the tour.

I used to say something like this to the sheep I led across campus during my weekly slot:

"Over 18,000 people come back for Reunions every year. They don't just return for their 25th or 50th, but for their 1st, their 2nd, their 3rd, their 23rd--even their 70th! I can only describe it as a wedding or some interpretation of Carnaval, all in orange and black. You'd think the world had been painted in only those two colors when you watch the P-rade move down Elm Drive, led by the very oldest living alum and then ending with the graduating class, which, terrifyingly enough, will be mine, and too, too soon. 

Without putting down another institution, I can assure you, there is no other school that you're looking at that has anything like this. 

When you walk around this campus, you might think that this is something out of Harry Potter. And, while that's not completely true, it's not completely false either. It's easy to forget it when you're working so hard, but it truly is magical. And during Reunions, somehow, this campus transforms into something even more magical. If you hadn't already, it's then that you realize: you may be at Princeton for only four years, but you're a tiger for life."

Thanks to all of you who made my Reunions experience this year truly unforgettable. See you next year.