Alumni Weekend to Mark – and Make – College History

by Ryan Dougherty
Alumni Weekend

Call it a party 150 years in the making.

Helping to mark the College's sesquicentennial, Alumni Weekend is expected to bring a record turnout of more than 2,500 people to campus between Friday and Sunday. Alumni will arrive from all across the United States and 24 countries, including New Zealand, Singapore, Kenya, and Peru. And, unusual for Alumni Weekend, they will represent 72 classes, dating back to 1934.

"Making it an all-alumni event has blown attendance out of the water," says Director of Alumni Relations Lisa Lee '81, who notes that the weekend presents a rare opportunity.

"Even if alumni have been to all their reunions, they've seen the same people from their class," she says. "So this is their chance to reconnect with the friends from other classes they don't normally see."

They'll also see a wider array of programming, reflecting the history and essence of the College. Among the highlights:

  • A walking tour led by Friends Historical Library Curator Chris Densmore on connections between Swarthmore families and the Underground Railroad, abolitionism, and African-American education
  • The College receiving its first Grammy Award, donated by Don Mizell '71, who earned the honor in 2005 as producer of the Ray Charles album "Genius Loves Company"
  • A talk from Jeopardy! sensation Arthur Chu '08, who won nearly $300,000 on the popular game show with an unusual playing style
  • A sesquicentennial cabaret hosted by Pittinger Crumhenge (Quinn Bauriedel '94) and starring Swattie crowd favorite Martha Graham Cracker (Dito van Reigersberg '94) among other alumni
  • A special Alumni Weekend version of the annual "Bath Tub Debate," in which faculty from social sciences, natural sciences, and the humanities hash out which discipline is most vital to human existence
  • The largest Parade of Classes in College history, in which members of 72 classes will process from Magill Walk to the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater and hear remarks from federal judge Jed Rakoff '64, among others

The weekend also features a service project, for which hundreds of volunteers will carry items to the Lamb-Miller Fieldhouse for the annual student-run Trash 2 Treasure. The event promotes re-use and recycling while raising money for local charities.

"We've never done a service project like this during Alumni Weekend," says Lee, "but it feels really appropriate in our sesquicentennial year."

The expected attendance - up around 800 from last year - presented some logistical challenges. Staff efforts included arranging for shuttles from the Springfield Mall parking lot, renting extra tents and portable restrooms, and brainstorming strategies for making the most of the limited meeting spaces. Staff in areas such as dining services, housekeeping, and media services raced to finalize arrangements, with just five days of turn-around time after Commencement.

"It's amazing, all the pieces that go into it," says Lee. "There are so just many people behind the scenes who help make this happen."

With much of the heavy lifting completed, though, Lee allowed herself a moment to envision the weekend.

"I just can't wait to see what this campus looks like with 2,500 people on it," she says. "The activities and events we've planned will be great, but this weekend is really about people connecting with one another. It's seeing old friends catching up and the kids climbing the big Adirondack. That's what makes it special."