Reunion – Part 1
Posted: Jun 8, 2009 11:15am ET
I attended my 35th college reunion last week in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a small college known as Harvard, which celebrated its 358th graduation. I will spare you the pictures of me in a top hat, tails and a white tie, which I put on as part of my duties as a Commencement Day Class Marshal. My wife and I have attended four reunions now, and we always come away with a newfound appreciation for the diversity of our classmates' lives, and the pleasure we get from sitting down, however briefly, with old friends.
But I actually had to work last Thursday too. The marshals are assigned to the afternoon ceremony, when the keynote speaker gives his address (Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu) and the honorary degrees are handed out; this year’s honorees included jazz great Wynton Marsalis, film director Pedro Almodóvar and author Joan Didion. The marshals help guide the procession into Harvard’s Tercentenary Theater, a mammoth tree-filled quadrangle framed by Widener Library, Memorial Church, Harvard Hall and Sever Hall, a classroom building. In the morning, there were 35,000 people packed in there for the graduation exercises, and the area was largely filled in the afternoon too for the speakers.
My assignment was to help the 50th Reunion Class (1959) find their way to their gathering point for the procession into the ceremony. The 50th is one of the last “big” reunions for the college, and it was well-attended. I simply stood along a sidewalk in Harvard Yard and answered questions and got people to stand in line. One gentlemen—I’ll just call him Stu—was wondering how long they’d have to stand there, and I said, well, it could be up to an hour, and what we needed was a cigar.
He laughed and said he’d love one, and that began a conversation about my job as the executive editor of Cigar Aficionado, and my own love of cigars. But the talk of cigars triggered a memory for Stu; he recalled how he had been at Harvard when Fidel Castro visited the college in 1959, part of his post-revolutionary victory tour of the United States. Stu had been prompted by his professor at the time to ask a question about when would Castro consider holding democratic elections. Instead of a calm response to the question, he said Castro banged his fist on the podium and said the Cuban people had already voted with their blood during the revolution. Stu said it was an illuminating moment.
Another person looking for information interrupted our conversation, and Stu melted into the crowd of some of the 400 or members of his class. But I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of Fidel, most likely with a cigar in hand, talking to thousands of people at the college about his vision for the Cuban revolution, a vision that was soon to have serious repercussions on the lives of millions of Cubans, and the rest of the world, at the peak of the Cold War conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union.
I have a few other stories to tell about my reunion. I’ll get to them later this week.
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