Our alumni from the Class of 1992 wrote a very special piece for us about his 25th reunion. He reflects back on his time as an undergrad at Princeton as he revisits the campus with his old classmates. Here is the original English version of the piece posted back in October. Thank you, Toshi, for this wonderful piece, and I hope you all enjoy!
I sat in the back of a cab looking out the window as we crossed over Lake Carnegie heading to my 25th reunion. I saw the first signs of Princeton pop into view as the boathouse raised its head over the glimmering water. It was a reminder of one of the many things I wished I had done when I was a student. I recently read about the Princeton Boathouse, the many historic races that took place on Lake Carnegie and I regretted never watching a crew race while a student.
The cab driver dropped me off in the middle of campus so I could go find the newly built Whitman College dormitory which was to host our 25th reunion. I dragged my oversized suitcase over the cobbles while the suitcase wheels constantly shuddered over the uneven gothic sidewalk. So much had changed since when I graduated. I wasn’t quite sure where I was supposed to go. A behemoth of a new granite fortress towered over me and I had no idea which building it was. While I was excited to be back, it also felt like I had come back to a very different place. I didn’t recognize any of the seniors, of course, who were strutting around confidently in their new alumni jackets nor did I even know exactly where I was. I felt awkwardly out of place in a place I considered home many years ago.
After checking in and unlocking the door to my assigned room, I breathed a sigh of relief having finally completed my long voyage back to Princeton from Tokyo. I walked around my assigned dormitory. I had never stepped foot in this dorm when I was a student.
The aqua colored tiles of the shared bathroom with showers and restrooms, nonetheless, brought back memories of college life. I brushed my teeth at a row of sinks covered in the bluish light from the fluorescent stack of lights above. As I wandered the halls of the dormitory, I met a few Princeton alumni who had all come back for their reunions. All were smiling and cordial, but everybody seemed to be slightly disconnected from their surroundings.
In the far corner of one of the hallways, I heard laughing and saw familiar faces from a quarter-century ago. A group of my old classmates had gathered in the dorm room of the most recent arrival to reunions. After a series of warm high-fives, handshakes, and hugs, I joined the fray to debate how best to lay out my friend’s room. Did you pick up your 25th reunion jacket? When are we supposed to wear it? Did you find your name printed on the inside lining? Where were we supposed to pin all the buttons? It was if 25 years hadn’t happened. Weren’t we older and more responsible? Yes and no, I guess. It was if the last 25 years never happened. We were picking up the conversation as if it were the day after graduation. I hadn’t been back to reunions in 25 years but had made it a point to make sure I didn’t miss what is widely known as the best reunion party in America. The town of Princeton doubles in size during reunions as 25,000 alumni come back every June for the four-day celebration. The 25th reunion at Princeton is special – many go back every year, but if you only can go back to one, go back to your 25th.
We all headed out into the shining sun walking along the tree-lined walkway of the campus heading over to our 25th reunion headquarters at the Whitman College dormitory. There was a lot of laughing and kidding each other over how little we had changed. We also all asked what had gone on over the last 25 years.
“Where do you live now,” I asked one of my friend Dan.
“Isn’t that where you did your Ph.D.?”
“Yeah, I guess it is. I haven’t really made much progress, have I?”
“Well, what are you up to now in Chicago?”
“I teach physics.”
“At a university?”
“Yeah, at the University of Chicago. I’m working on gravitational waves.”
We all started asking Dan about the amazing LIGO gravitational wave project he was working on and how it all worked.
“We try to measure the gravitational waves coming from the bang of two black holes rotating around each other,” Dan explained.
“But two black holes circulating will not really produce a bang, will it?”
“Yeah, exactly. So, we are looking for the moment the two black holes collapse into one black hole which creates a gravitational shock wave.”
“I guess that’s a huge shock wave if you’re sitting near the black hole.”
“But the gravitational waves of a bang even that large can be barely recorded on earth. We calculate that there should be about one black hole pair collapsing into one every month.”
It all started coming back to me. Not the physics, but the curiosity of everybody on campus looking for new ideas. Another friend talked about his experience of working on the Android camera software while yet another talked about joining a startup where he is using large health insurance data sets to see if he can find methods of treatments with better medical outcomes. Princeton always emphasized coming up with new ideas in research, and it was always fun to talk with people about their latest research projects as they worked on their Junior Papers and Senior Theses. This was the Princeton I knew and loved.
We sat on the lawn outside Whitman college soaking up the sun and forgetting our real-world responsibilities. The shade of the trees overhead made it such that nobody wanted to get up and go to one of the many fascinating lectures planned for reunions. Talks on cyber-security, a Whig Clio political debate, and much more. Like in college, there was a ton of classes to learn from, but there was also time to spend just sitting on the grass talking about life, family, Princeton, and trivia. The beauty of campus surrounded us, but nobody really paid attention. We all sat around not wanting the moment to pass by.
Reunions were a fantastic blur of smiles, “hello agains,” orchestras, parades, fireworks, sneaking friends in the back door, spontaneous hugs, and the smell of freshly cut grass mixed with a little bit of beer. Several thousand of us sat on the football practice field listening and gabbing as the Princeton Orchestra played numerous John Williams hits. Fireworks filled the sky lighting up the smiles on my classmates’ faces as we kept going back and forth between the fireworks and petty gossiping. After the fireworks, we started throwing around a frisbee with each other and the kids of my classmates. My frisbee throwing certainly had not improved over the last 25 years, but running out of breath chasing frisbees almost made me forget about the serious life outside of campus. The evening continued on as the band “Naughty by Nature” played at the Whitman College dormitory. The class of 1992 danced through the night with amazing youth for a group of 47-year-olds. Reunions continued for another two days, and I am happy that I made the time to go back. Princeton had not changed after all. Some buildings may be new, and new students graduate every year, but for me, the song “Going Back to Nassau Hall” now holds more meaning than ever:
Let’s go back to Princeton
At commencement time,
Sample each reunion:
That’s the life for mine!
Ramble round the campus,
Full of jollity,
Our location for celebration
Is New Jersee.
Going back, going back,
Going back to Nassau Hall.
Going back, going back,
To the best old place of all.
Going back, going back,
From all this earthly ball.
We’ll clear the track as we go back,
Going back to Nassau Hall.
See you all at the 30th!
– Toshi Baily ‘92
Link to 2017 Reunion Video Footage: https://vimeo.com/224320672