The One (and We Hope Only) Party Like It’s 1971

The Loomis-Chaffee (yes, there was a hyphen back then) Class of 1971 wasn’t about to let a global pandemic get in our way of celebrating our 50th reunion. When we learned we couldn’t meet this year in person, an ever-mutating team of classmates mobilized to create a once-in-a-lifetime socially-distanced virtual experience.

Warm up exercises included setting up a Class of 1971 Photo Site for classmates to upload personal photos, tuning up our Facebook group, chasing down classmates for the Class Book and an initiative by the Chaffee side proposing and sponsoring a slideshow lecture on the early days of the school.

We scheduled our “Party Like it’s 1971” party for June 3, the actual day we were handed our diplomas and walked off campus 50 years earlier. Classmate Sally Sturman designed the invitation. With a stretch goal of 64 attendees, we set up eight Breakout Rooms (dubbed The Oke Fun Oke, The Snug, Loomis Only, Chaffee Only, Docs and Jocks, Arts and Letters, Palmer Lounge and “Just Put Me Anywhere”). We asked classmates to indicate their preferences on their RSVPs.

A week before the event, the Loomis Chaffee Alumni Office shipped out individual party boxes to all who planned to attend, packed with a baseball cap, a hard copy of the Class Book, a lowball acrylic glass and snacks of all sorts including monogrammed M&Ms. What a hit this was!

Mary Lou Lombard Jeppson spearheaded creation of a class video showcasing 60-second selfie videos of classmates describing an “adventure” each of us had over the last 50 years. In mid-May a class survey was concocted and sent out.  

The 65 seventy-oners (yes, we beat our goal by +1) who logged into the Zoom on June 3 were treated to a rotating slide show of our senior headshots set to 1971 tunes from Bowie, the Stones, Sly and the Family Stone and Clapton. Once a critical mass gathered, the virtual doors opened.

First on the agenda was Mary Lou’s welcoming remarks, in the form of an ersatz-graduation speech that paid tribute to Walter Rabetz by recognizing the 13 working artists in the class. That’s in addition to 17 professors and teachers, 15 in medical professions, 12 attorneys and four architects. Her recurring theme was “Who would have guessed?”

She then introduced the video featuring 17 classmates, ending with a stunning three-minute visual essay by Tom Fecht, a one-year German exchange student now a Europe-based artist, a discourse on his lifelong search for a home narrated by his 12-year-old daughter. We were wowed.

Next, Tim Carney and Mary Lowengard delivered a Nichols-and-May take on the results of the “highly unscientific Reunion Survey.” We got a great response – 69% of the 130 classmates we tracked down participated. We learned how many of us were married, how many times, how long and that only 1% wished they’d gone to Choate Rosemary Hall. Scientific or not, it was entertaining and we learned a thing or two about ourselves.

The video and survey gave us something to talk about in our two 30-minute breakout sessions that followed. The first honored the requested placements, for the second session the rooms were randomly assigned and wandering was permitted.

Our classmate Hobart Taylor read aloud a poem he’d composed for the occasion to a rapt audience gathered in the Main Room. Many hung out following the second breakout session and closed the place down at 9:00 pm.

Sure, it wasn’t the same as being together in person, but for what it was, it worked. Classmates engaged and enjoyed this brief taste of an alternative to a “real” reunion. The Reunion Survey asked if respondents would attend an in-person reunion with a resounding 50% indicating they would and another 38% saying they’d consider it.

A follow-up post-party survey, with 63 responses from the 65 attendees, verified the success of the party. Written comments were off the charts. Now, we await our invitation to The Island and in the meantime are enjoying our hats.