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McMaster Reunion

June 1, 2008

Gargoyle on Hamilton Hall, McMaster UniversityWhen I was an undergrad at McMaster, there were frequent calls for more school spirit, which seemed to mean attending athletic games or residence parties. I was a commuting student, involved with the dramatic society and friends with many of the Silhouette’s writers.  I went to the reunion yesterday, and, of the thousands who graduated in 1968, only 22 showed up. In fact there were more who had died, 82, than those who chose to show up. I wonder why.

Mac was a relatively new university, a former Baptist college that was originally part of U of T. I went because my grandfather had briefly studied at McMaster when it was part of U of T, and because it was the closest university to my parents’ home, so I could commute. Is it because Mac has no long history that none of my year comes back for reunions? The class of ’58 was meeting in the same building, and they had a much bigger crowd, so the short history can’t be the whole answer.

We were students at a time of rapid expansion and I think an increasing proportion of students were commuting. I don’t know if other universities have the same very limited attendance for reunions of classes from the 1960s. ( I’d love to know – if anyone has experience with other reunions from the era.) Maybe it was the times. The much larger, dispersed student body, maybe didn’t have the same sense of belonging to both the academy and to our fellow students. One of the songs popular in the ;60s had the plaintive line, “Why doesn’t anyone stay in the same place anymore?” Maybe as a society we were losing our roots, our sense of being connected to certain places, institutions and surrounding people.

I used to teach with a guy who said Canadians were boring, and that he preferred the campus experience in the States, where people got excited about their teams and their universities. Perhaps that’s part of it. We in Canada were (more so than now) caught between two empires, Great Britain and the United States, belonging to neither, feeling inferior to both. (I took American lit. as part of my English Literature degree, and lots of British lit., but NO Canadian. I was offered one half course in four years, and it was Commonwealth lit., and was only one-quarter Canadian, which everyone “knew” was boring, so I didn’t take it. Many of my profs and the grad student TAs were British or American. There was a subliminal message in that too.) So feeling excited about belonging wasn’t a Canadian trait back then. However, the few times we’ve gone to a Boston University (my husband graduated from there) there wasn’t much of a turnout for his year there.

I remember it being generally accepted by the people I hung out with, the counter culture crowd, that it wasn’t “cool” to be involved with the school spirit stuff. It was, the feeling was, empty of meaning. And I think we might have resented the relatively little attention that was paid to our extra-curricular activities. Our extra-curric. activities led to some very high- profile careers. Eugene Levy, Martin Short, and Ivan Reitman were all part of Mac drama scene of that time, and Peter Calamai and Laurence Martin were part of the Silhouette, the student paper.  All these, and others, started their crafts and careers at Mac. None of them attended, and to be frank, I only went because I had a friend from our year who agreed to go with me.

So would I go to another if I can? Probably, if only out of curiosity. I did chat with some people I knew from back then, and it was interesting. The organizers put our grad pictures on our name tags, which helped a lot, but the people I knew best who attended, had the same faces and mannerism, even if their hair had changed colour, style, and thickness. I still don’t like “ra-ra” stuff, but I loved my years at Mac. I loved what I was learning, both in class and in extracurric. and social activites. I also loved becoming my own person, finding out what I liked and what I was good at. It was a time of personal exploration and, as they say now, personal growth.

I guess I’ll never really know it was some of these reasons, or a combination of all of them that explain why so many people weren’t interested in attending. I wonder if the new pattern of connecting with our pasts is reuniting on with select individuals Facebook rather than by attending reunions where you don’t know who will show up.

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