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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Williston-Northampton 2018 Reunion


Dear Headmaster Hill,

I can’t remember when I first began thinking of my 50th Reunion at Williston. Maybe June 7, 1968. I never expected this great event of 2018 to turn into such a big disappointment. Williston is in my blood. I was one of those rare 8th grade five-year students, one of two in the class of ‘68 to return as a faculty member, and am in continual contact with classmates.  I have always loved reuniting with classmates in Easthampton in June. Why was the reunion changed to May?

I am not adverse to change; heck we were the class of change in a decade of change. Girls were gradually merged into Williston Academy during our senior year. In 1968, the world was changing around us at a rapid rate with too many assassinations, a war, a divided nation, and drugs.  Williston had been our constant in an ever-changing world, our sanctuary as we were changing, too. Change is not the issue with the decision to have Alumni weekend held on a weekend in May instead of June; it is the decision, that’s the problem. Students will be on campus. It is Mother’s Day weekend. Other schools in the area will be celebrating graduations. That’s not Alumni Weekend. I am very disappointed in the decision. I don’t remember being asked about the change as an alumnus about Alumni weekend. Were alumni involved in this decision about changing the date?

In past reunions, we stayed in the dorms, we wandered the dorms, revisited rooms we lived in for a year, roamed the passages that began our journey in life. It was affordable housing, too. Now we can’t do this in our 50th year. The campus is not ours on Alumni weekend. Dorms will be off limits, as will other places to congregate or stay. Where will we gather if not the common rooms, classrooms, nooks and crannies of our old school on reunion weekend? Distant hotels? It’s called Alumni weekend for a reason. It is for the alumni to gather on a shared ground to reminisce and reunite; it is a reunion, a retreat.

Finally, what has the turnout been like for reunions since this decision was made? I’m curious if the numbers of returning alumni in May is lower than prior reunions that were held in June? I would suspect so and attribute the low turnout to this poor decision of moving our reunions from the tranquil quiet weekend in June to the hectic chaotic weekend in May.  I won’t be there. I won’t be contributing to the Alumni Fund. After all, this isn’t personal; it’s business. I hope the school reverses it’s ill-advised decision and reschedules reunions to June so I can return to my beloved Williston on Alumni weekend. I look forward to that.

Sincerely,

Theodore D Nellen ’68 F ‘79
  
PS
I will be posting this letter on my Blog. Classmates, this missive and/or blog address may be shared with other Willies and others in the W-N community as appropriate via email or Facebook.  I don’t have Facebook.

Cheers,
Ted

Dear Mr. Nellen,
Thanks for taking the time to write. As a school that invests a lot of time and resources in Reunion Weekend, we have wrestled with all of the concerns you raise, and have heard from other alumni who prefer the June schedule.
There were a number of reasons for this temporary change, and we were inspired by the success and experience many of our peer schools have had with Alumni Reunion Weekends held during the school year. We decided to move to the May schedule for one five-year Reunion cycle (between 2016 and 2020) and reassess based on feedback from alumni participants.
In fact, with Williston having now organized two of these May reunions, one important agenda items for a new alumni volunteer group convening in early fall is to offer input and advice on this very matter. Any future changes to the schedule will be made far enough in advance to allow organizers and volunteers to adequately plan for any change.
I would encourage you to reconsider, give this a chance, and attend your 50th Reunion next May if your schedule permits. I know that fellow members of the class of 1968 have already been hard at work to make it a special and enjoyable weekend for all of your classmates. Based on the experience of many attendees this past May, I would be surprised if the schedule change diminishes the weekend.
Thanks again for writing, and I hope to welcome you back to campus next May.
Sincerely,
Bob

Bob,
Thanks for the detailed response with some explanation to the reason for the change of reunion Weekend from June to May. I can only hear my mother's response when I told her I wanted to do something because my friends were doing it. You know the response, too, I'm sure. I hope the decision to return Alumni weekend to June so I can look forward to my 60th on campus in June. In the meantime I will continue visiting with my classmates as I travel the country.
I'm still concerned for the younger alumni who have to figure how to pay for the cost of rooms in the area so they could attend Reunions. The Class of '68 is lucky to have a Jim Cain provide for accommodations in a nearby hotel. Not every class has this benefactor.
Sincerely,
Ted

Dear Ted,
Thanks for this note and I do hope you make it back. Jim Cain is indeed a great supporter.  Losing his brother, Dan, last spring was an enormous blow to their family and to Williston as well, since he was a former Trustee and a personal supporter of mine.
The younger crowd, as you point out, took a bit of a hit on the rooming issue for reunion, but with Air BnB etc,, those who wish to return have seemed to manage. More important for me has been the involvement of our students in Reunion and the exchanges they have with returning alumni.  
This next statement does not apply to Williston Academy graduates who seem to all share in a heightened appreciation of their alma mater.  What I discovered from speaking to graduates from roughly 1980-2000 is that many of them hold a dated view of Williston as it is today, one based on how they recall their experience.  I want alumni from those years, especially, to see for themselves the students we have in action, the teachers who are consummate pros and the school as it is today.  I want them to have Williston on the short list for their own children, should they be looking at boarding schools,  rather than hear about such and such an alumna having sent her child to Loomis or Westminster or where ever, without even considering Williston.  Last year, the alumni who spoke to me really appreciated seeing the school in action and I believe had just as good a time with their classmates in attendance.
Proud to be serving in my eighth year, and hoping this year's reunion classes celebrate the best of Williston.
Best, Bob

Hello Bob,
Yes, the loss of Dan Cain was a huge hit. He was my hero when I was an eighth grader. The bigger thrill was that he knew me, signed my yearbook, and we maintained a friendship through the years as we reunited at reunions and in NYC during those W-N gatherings. I know his importance to the school and love how Jim is carrying on the Cain legacy.
As for me, I have a 16' Scamp trailer I travel about in and planned on parking in on the quad for the weekend and as a former faculty, the weekend is gratis, so these aren't issues for me. I spelled out the issues for me in my first letter and they still stand. I am well aware of how Williston looks today and functions. I continued my teaching career in NYC public schools for thirty-three years after leaving Williston faculty and am not interested in sharing my alumni weekend with kids, I'm retired now. I will be spending my Mother's Day with my grandchildren and their mothers, my daughters.
You should be proud of the work you have done. I am looking forward to more good years for you and to meeting you one June on campus.
Cheers,
Ted

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