A Zoom of Their Own

“Remember our commune?” It’s a question perhaps only the Class of 1970 could ask. 

As in past Reunions, faculty member Robert Gross led a session based on his Upper School “History of DC” seminar for alumni celebrating the 50th anniversary of their Sidwell Friends graduation. After Gross shared Horizon issues from the Class of 1970’s senior year, classmates quickly began reminiscing about their experiences as Sidwell Friends students and DC residents in the late 1960s. Peace protests and pro-war rallies around the White House and National Mall. Debates raging over on-campus smoking and the length of girls’ hemlines. And yes, Senior Projects in which students from the Class of 1970 tried communal living in a house on Reno Road. 

While the Class of 1970 had unique experiences, their remembrances sounded much like those shared in past 50th Reunion discussions—with the addition of some good-natured reminders to “unmute yourself!” as the Zoom discussion got rolling. 

Like other alumni who graduated in “0” and “5” years, the Class of 1970 had planned to attend Reunion last May. Once it became clear that a smart pandemic response precluded large, boisterous gatherings where hugs and handshakes would abound, the School postponed Reunion so that it would coincide with Homecoming this fall. Although on-campus gatherings have yet to resume, the Alumni Engagement team and the Reunion volunteers agreed that it was important to mark this special milestone for alumni now, when moments of connectedness feel rarer and that much more poignant. Invites went out for Virtual Reunion 2020. 

In advance of Reunion, alumni received a virtual care package, complete with Sidwell Friends Zoom backgrounds, an online photo booth, digital jigsaw puzzles, and curated playlists full of popular songs from their Upper School years. Even the beloved 5th Grade Buddies program was reimagined for the digital space, enabling those celebrating their 50th Reunion to have meaningful exchanges with 5th grade (now 6th grade) students.

Reunion classes organized their own Zoom sessions—and in the case of the Class of 1950, their third since the spring, thanks to class representative and Reunion volunteer Toby Riley ’50. For the Class of 1960, this format opened new possibilities for connecting with classmates they had not seen in years—some since graduation—because the technology eliminated the need to travel. 

“What at past five-year Reunions had been a pizza party, this year became a three-hour, nonstop gab fest,” Larry Robinson ’60 said. “We continued unabated for another four hours the next night, where four of our classmates led topical discussions. Many called it the best Reunion we have ever had, and it was such a hit, we are planning to have a mini-Reunion over Zoom in December.”

Attendees had a full slate of activities to enjoy, especially since they could attend Homecoming activities as well. On Friday, October 16, Bob Levey (P ’00, ’05) hosted a panel discussion during Homecoming featuring Zeeshan Aleem ’04 and Jonah Bromwich ’07 titled “The Journalist’s Role in Civil Society Today.” Levey, Aleem, and Bromwich offered thoughtful responses to questions from attendees about topics like First Amendment rights, journalistic responsibilities in the age of social media, and how the 24-hour news cycle impacts reporting. 

The Distinguished Alumni Awards honored Dale Rogers Marshall ’55, Kathryn Bostic, Nick Turner ’85, and Thomas Kail ’95 later in the evening.   

On Saturday, October 17, alumni went back to class, selecting from one of three sessions offered by long-tenured Sidwell Friends faculty members and getting glimpses of how distance learning works for Upper School students. 

Alumni in Ashish Patwardhen’s “The Literature of War” session previewed a literature course Patwardhen has been designing—one inspired by Sidwell Friends alumni who have served in the military. Susan Banker invited alumni into her “English Class Revisited” session to read passages from favorite pieces of literature, as well as works they first encountered in Sidwell Friends classes that shaped their perspectives. Robust discussion in Mamadou Guèye’s “Language and Identity” session touched on connections between language, history, and culture. 

From there, attendees split off to meet with classmates in Zoom rooms and check out Homecoming athletics offerings. The weekend wrapped on Sunday with attendees taking a virtual tour of the Upton Street property and returning to an activity at the heart of their Sidwell Friends experience: Meeting for Worship. 

Of course, the highlight of the weekend for the classes was the time they spent together. “We all left the weekend having shared earnest, heartfelt appreciation for each other’s presence in our lives—15 years ago and now,” Allie Levey ’05 said. “We reconnected and celebrated each other’s life updates. As my friend Randa Tawil ’05 put it, it felt like we were all actively rooting for one another.”

Chris Formant ’70 described his Zoom call with classmates as a “marathon” session. “We updated each other on our lives over the years, while frequently devolving back into Sidwell Friends teenagers when a familiar name or place was invoked,” he said. “The call became a laugh fest. Everyone agreed we should do this more often to keep in contact, to keep supportive of one another, and to become teenagers again from time to time.” 

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