"Ten years have passed since my Occidental classmates told you, 'We don't expect you to come up here and make a landmark speech.' "
It was a letter from Melody L. Malmberg, Oxy '79, inviting me to the 10th reunion of the class to which I had given the commencement address.
When I was invited to give the address I had driven up to Occidental to find out what was expected of me, and a member of the senior council had assured me, "Mr. Smith, we don't expect you to come up here and make a landmark speech."
And I didn't. I think the only advice I offered was "Spend all your kisses."
I wrote later: "It was the most exuberant and enchanting commencement I have ever seen, and all its impudence, I suspect, was quite without hostility or malice."
The impudence included a young woman who walked across the stage to receive her diploma from the college president with a tiger on her mortarboard (the tiger being Oxy's mascot); the young man who carried an infant across the stage, and the young man who led a large yellow dog across it.
The reunion cocktail party and dinner was to be on a Saturday evening in the parking structure of Newcomb Hall. A parking structure is not designed for cocktail parties, and when my wife and I arrived, the din made conversation difficult. But everyone was in high spirits; we shouted in one another's ear.
The crowd was vivacious, exuberant and euphoric, though I suspected that the years had not dealt equally well with all. Ten years is time enough for disappointment, disenchantment and heartbreak, as well as success.
In her letter, Melody had said: "Ten years after college puts most of us at the somewhat interesting age of 32. Many of us are making strides in our professions. . . . We are world travelers and we are wrapped up in our young families. We have single-mothers-by-choice, gay activists, right-to-lifers, pro-choice advocates. The men are going bald. The women are wearing makeup."
I was pleased when Brian Lewis introduced himself and said, "Thanks for urging me to 'spend my kisses.' I've been trying to do that ever since."
John Drew was teaching political science at Williams College in Massachusetts; Cathy (Conant) Thomas was teaching economics in summer high school; Lois (Moore) Hunter was an insurance agent; Gary Coomber, a physician in Sonoma County; Tim Bambrick works for Transamerica but also is into play writing and editing.
Mary Woods said she had brought her 6-week-old daughter, Annie. I saw Annie in a man's arms at a nearby table. I wondered why her mother didn't have her maiden name in parenthesis, like many of the others, on her name tag. She said, "My partner and I aren't married. We're non-traditional. I gave my daughter my own name."
Well, it had been that kind of class; the anarchy of the early 1970s was gone, but '79 thumbed its nose at tradition and authority. Mary Woods is now a film story editor. She said, "Annie's Class of 2010."
A handsome, well-dressed young man came up to introduce himself. He was Darrell Krasnoff, the young man who had led the dog across the stage. Krasnoff is now in security sales. He said Max, the dog, had been a yellow Labrador.
"Two years later," he said, "he also got an MBA at Stanford."
"You mean," I said, "he walked across the stage with you when you got your diploma?" Indeed he had. Krasnoff had then gone to New York and Max had lived with him in Greenwich Village. Max died a year or so ago. He spent his last year at ease on a ranch.
The buffet dinner was eaten at tables under the concrete girders. The mood was ecstatic. After dinner Eric Newhall, professor of American studies and English, was one of two or three brief speakers. His wit was heroic.
Then the evening degenerated into a television-style guessing game, in which the left and right sides of the class competed, with outrageous enthusiasm and chaotic demonstrations.
Through the noise I tried to converse with Lee Case, vice president for development and planning. He said, "So this is what education is all about 10 years later! What about ultimate solutions? Are we dealing with that?"
Melody Malmberg was standing beside us. "TV and babies," she said.