50th Reunion Welcome Remarks — John Hufnagel

Welcome Remarks on the First Night of the 50th Reunion
John Hufnagel
June 7, 2017

I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of our classmates, spouses, partners, friends and family.

Here we are – assembled again 50 years after graduating from the college.  If asked in our early 20’s how long 50 years would be, we can all attest now that it is a hell of a lot shorter than we anticipated then.

And we are fortunately not the decrepit old men that we had envisioned then, either.  I know it, you know it, we all know it to be true because our peers tell us, “You look great, you haven’t changed a bit.”  We smile, suck in, and agree to this alternative truth – disregarding anything on the inside that hurts.

We also have worried about this day coming for almost 50 years when we heard tales that at our 50th we were expected to stand up in front of the whole Society of Alumni and lay down our gifts to the college and not be embarrassed.

I remember a failed scheme at our 40th reunion where we contemplated joining together to buy a lottery subscription for the following 10 years in hopes of hitting the numbers by our 50th.  It never happened.

But through appreciation tempered by the passage of time, we will not be embarrassed on Saturday morning.

But 50 years IS a long time.  This is not my first 50th college reunion.  I went to my maternal grandfather’s 50th at Amherst (yes, Amherst!) when Robert Frost spoke of his dream for an experimental college which stressed alternative individual participation in a collegiate program.  This idea became real when Hampshire College was formed in 1970.

When my grandfather was in college, the Wright brothers had not flown their plane and the First World War had not occurred

I lived close enough to Williamstown in 1981 to attend my father’s 50th reunion at Williams for his class of 1931.  He was in college with Jon Vipond’s father and Allan Stern’s father during the Great Depression and before the Second World War.

I realize — as I think you will — that in the time we have lived, we have all known people who have influenced us or whom we have influenced over that span of 100 years. The class that was reunioning when we graduated was the Class of 1917.

Now it’s our 50th.   We were in college at the time John Kennedy was shot, the Vietnam War and its many protests were going on, the Great Society was forming, the marches by SNCC and NAACP on the issues of segregation were promising new freedoms, the Beatles were in their glory along with the best music ever, and the personal computer would not arrive on the scene for another eight years.  And then life moved on.

For some of us who have done the planning for this reunion — together with the most gracious team from the college — we have been living daily for five years with the idea of arriving at this moment in time.

It is our wish that this be a time of reflection, a time of honest sharing, and a time where we are again exposed to the intellectual stimulation that was present while we were here and see that that treasure still exists in our college today.

I have had the pleasure recently of becoming the owner of a small Australian labradoodle puppy – Henry.  We take walks to the beach down the dirt road from us everyday at low tide so that we can both be off leash and free to explore.  In the middle of the long sandy beach there is a big glacial boulder surrounded by sand.  Every day Henry heads for that rock and, at full speed, circles around it four or five times before heading off in all directions to explore what the beach will provide.

Several times during the walk he will return to the rock and circle it again before heading out and until we again link up with the leash at the end of the walk.

When thinking about what I wanted to say tonight, my mind kept coming back to Henry circling that rock as his daily ritual.  I realized that throughout my life I do the same thing.

I circle back around those life experiences that have had a profound impact in creating who I am, and I view them with the different eyes of age and experience and use them as an anchor for my understanding of self.

Williams was for me one of those experiences.

For all of us, the four years spent here at Williams came at a critical time in our personal growth when in the fall of 1963 we were all off the leash and headed for college.

For some it appeared an easy fit.  For others it was a time when we became acutely aware of how different we felt.  For all of us we entered a new world alone.

We each had to navigate four years of our life in a male-dominated world fraught with conformity, competition, unimagined freedoms, and the desire to find a place within ourselves and the group.

As I read through the Class Book that Harry Matthews and others put together for us celebrating 50 years of life since Williams, there was a prevalent theme: that whether Williams was one of our life’s principal experiences or not, we all came away from those four years with more exposure to how to find facts and truths and a distinct sense of curiosity to learn more about the world we live in.

What I have noticed as common threads in reading all of your bios and the memorials is a humility about successes and failures, an underlying sense of joy even under the conditions that life imposes on us, and a desire to try and learn more.  These bios recount lives of love and service and an appreciation for the gift of an education.

We took to heart what John Gardner said in his graduation speech to us:  “When you are satisfied with what you have learned, you are dead.”

I commend Williams – for then and for now – for its dedication to engendering an environment of exposure to many disciplines of study and for promoting intellectual curiosity.

So I know I will be circling the rock this weekend with all of you – as Henry stayed home.

Open your hearts and minds to this occasion and enjoy a unique time to be with classmates who have also had lives rich with 50 years of experience since those original years here in Williamstown.

Thanks for coming.

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