Alumni returned to campus—in person, no less!—for a weekend of celebration.
For the Sidwell Friends Class of 1972, political controversy was in the air they breathed. At a luncheon for their 50th Reunion, members of the class gathered behind Zartman House to talk to Upper School Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs Robbie Gross about going to high school as the Vietnam War, riots in DC, and a robust feminist movement erupted throughout their teenage years.
Some recalled the chilly reception former Secretary of State Dean Acheson received when he came to speak to the student body; others remembered outright protesting the selection of former Defense Secretary (and architect of much of the war in Vietnam) Robert McNamara P ’68 as a potential Commencement speaker—a fight the class won when the secretary was ultimately asked not to come. Some of the classmates babysat younger children so adults could attend protests over the years; one alumnus remembered serving as a crossing guard on the Mall at protests; several recalled the smell of teargas. One visited her brother, who had been injured in Vietnam, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (“If you want to turn a kid into a pacifist,” she said, “send him to the amputee ward of Walter Reed”).
In an era when girls weren’t permitted to wear pants until Upper School (and then only during winter months!), it is fitting that the Class of 1972’s commencement speaker was Estelle Ramey, the endocrinologist, physiologist, and feminist who became famous for refuting the idea that women were unfit to hold high public office due to “raging hormonal imbalances.” During her speech at Sidwell Friends, Ramey argued that women—menstrual cycles and all—would have done a better job with the Bay of Pigs than President John F. Kennedy, who nearly brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Ramey even asked, “Why bother educating women?” if they were in fact so incapable. (And, in case the world wasn’t fraught enough for the Class of 1972, just weeks after graduation, a gaggle of dirty-tricksters broke into the Watergate Hotel.)
Of course, though the 50th Reunion lunch was special for the Class of 1972, it was just the beginning of a weekend in which alumni of all ages gathered on campus—whether it was their fifth, 25th, or 70th Reunion milestone. Friday evening featured three happy hours on campus—the Half-Century Club (for those alumni who graduated 50 years ago and beyond), Parents of Alumni, and Retired and Former Faculty and Staff—that all culminated in a Welcome Reception. On Saturday, the Class of 1987 held a social-impact conversation, and there were four in-person classes for alumni taught by current faculty: (1) Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye’s “From Poetry To Politics: How Black Students’ Activism at La Sorbonne led to Independence in Francophone Africa”; (2) Upper School science teacher Laura Barrosse-Antle’s “Forensic ‘Science’: When Justice Isn’t Blind”; (3) Supervía Latin American Studies Chair Silvana Niazi’s “Continuity and Change in Latin America”; and (4) Upper School History Department Chair Darren Speece’s “The History of Monsters in Film.”
Next, alumni gathered for the Reunion Lunch and presentation of the Distinguished Alumni Awards, the highest-attended on-campus portion of the weekend. Awards went to: Steve Woolpert ’62, Bill Johnson ’72, Kelsey Wirth ’87, and Katherine Tai ’92 (whose classmates showed up in large number and even had temporary tattoos with her face on them!). Watch the tribute video of the awardees here and read their bios. The Classes of 1992 and 2007 took to social media for a “Quake-Over” of the alumni Instagram account, chronicling their weekends (including events held off campus). And everyone on campus had a ball at the photo booth in the Caplin lobby where alums could don silly hats and glasses and take photos with classmates and friends. And of course, there was a special Meeting for Worship in the RLS Meeting Room, a tradition no Reunion Weekend would be complete without.
As for the Class of 1972, it wasn’t all protests and controversy back then. Fifty years later, the classmates reminisced about painting their senior lounge “Jupiter blue,” groaning when gym became mandatory, giggling about a Meeting for Worship that got silly (and incurred the ire of the administration), and still feeling a bit stunned that DC native and singing icon Roberta Flack played one of their Sadie Hawkins dances (and also found themselves wondering what Estelle Ramey would have thought about Sadie Hawkins dances!). Some things can only happen at Sidwell Friends.