Names on the Wall at Woolsey Hall

Names on the wall in Woolsey Hall


Reunions are a great opportunity to study history, society, and the stages of human life because the cohorts of graduates are segregated by age and on display in their distinctive plumage.

I remember one day when my daughter Sarah was little and we went to the swimming hole at Deerfield Academy on reunion weekend, and the different classes showed up to swim in chronological order.

First there were the boisterous seniors, jumping and roughhousing, with the boys splashing the girls and throwing them in the water.

Then came the young marrieds, and the boys were less boisterous and DID NOT splash the girls and throw them in the water.

Then the parents with little kids, then the parents with big kids, then the grandparents with little kids, and finally the old ladies and gents who just took off their shoes and waded in the river with a faraway look in their eye.

This year marked a kind of sad transition for my college reunion, because our class (1974) was sceduled for the “old” weekend. We used to reune with the classes that came after us in five-year increments. This year we reuned with the classes who went before.

So instead of looking back over the various stages of life that we had all passed through — young marrieds, parents with kids — we got a look ahead down the corridors of time at the thinning ranks of grey-haired gents in blue blazers, growing ever more frail, five years at a time.

And since our class was only the second to become coeducational, there were no single women.

For our 20th and 25th and 30th and 35th, when the party died down in the Class of 1974 courtyard, we could always move on to the class of ’79 and on to ’84 and ’89, getting ever more raucous as the evening progressed.

This year no one I knew very well showed up and I high-tailed it over to my friend Edward’s in East Haven.

I went back the next day, and it was fun to roam around the city and visit old haunts. I went to the Peabody Museum, which I had never got around to visiting in my undergraduate days.

And I went over to the corner of College and Chapel Steets to pay my respects to Adelbert Hay, who fell to his death there in 1902 from a window in the New Haven House at his second reunion. He was smoking on a windowsill in the wee hours of the morning.

Then Saturday, I found myself in a line at Woolsey Hall in a sea of silver-haired gents waiting to hear an address by the president of the university, followed by a program of a capella singing.

The walls of Woolsey Hall are inscribed with hundreds and hundreds of names of graduates who died in America’s wars, listing the dates and the places where they died.

I looked at the 225 names of those who died in World War I and tried to imagine what it would be like to lose hundreds of your classmates in just two years.

Then there are 514 names from World War II.

“Memory here guards their ennobled names.”

I was about to take me seat, when I heard myself saying to myself, “What the heck am I doing here?” and took off for the Valley to put in my garden.