Cocktail hours, talkfests, and trivia nights as the alumni network goes virtual.

Joanne Lipman ’83 is the inaugural Distinguished Journalism Fellow at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and author, most recently, of That’s What She Said: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together.  

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When the world shut down in March, I was struck by a sudden, inexplicable urge
. . . to reconnect with my college roommates.

No matter that we graduated more than 30 years ago and are spread out across half a dozen states. The feeling was mutual. “We’re all locked down. Let’s set up a virtual roomie cocktail hour,” Mary Cardoza, a San Francisco–area surgeon, texted our suitemates.

So began our regular cocktail-fueled roomie “quarantinis.” Add to that the Zoom talkfests I share with a tightknit group of Yale girlfriends (including Peggy Edersheim Kalb ’86, one of this magazine’s editors). And the Thursday night virtual Happy Hours for my classmates in the college now known as Grace Hopper.

The coronavirus ushered in dark times for many—illness, economic destruction, death. Yet amid the darkness—or perhaps because of it?—“lux and veritas” has bloomed: the light and truth of the friendships we forged at Yale. Psychologists have noted that with the social isolation of quarantine, many of us began hungering to reconnect with old friends. Here’s all the proof you need: after I wrote about my “quarantinis” on Facebook, dozens of Yalies, from classes spanning 60 years, wrote in to talk about their own.

They told of the Wednesday virtual Zoomba classes for the “First Women in Yale College” (classes of ’71, ’72, and ’73). The Class of ’00 weekly bar-trivia nights. The ’73 Whiffenpoofs Zooming from spots around the globe; the ’16ers who gather for Monday game nights; and the Class of ’64 virtual meetups across the country. I heard about the ’91 Davenporters who revived their senior-year weekly Hearts game; the lightweight crew, equestrian, rugby, Glee Club, and Slavic Chorus reunions; the weekly Class of ’88 meetups with up to 40 classmates at a time; the Yale Daily board of ’68 Zoom reunion; even a virtual ’84 “Pierson Cabaret night.” 

Respondents wrote about the mental-health breaks and the delight in welcoming  “special guests” like professors and freshmen counselors. But they also spoke of how these virtual reunions are helping navigate these extraordinary times. “On our last two Zooms, we discussed racism in the US and white privilege. It has been a profound experience,” wrote Amy Solas of the biweekly reunions for her Yale School of Management Class of ’89.

The power of Yale ties was never so clear as when my ’83 classmate Michele Ward revived the Thursday night Happy Hour—a staple back when the drinking age was 18 and our residential college was still known as Calhoun. There was something so comforting about seeing two dozen old friends, unvarnished, in sweatpants and with uncut hair, checking in from home offices and kitchens. We caught up on the good stuff—marriages, kids, careers—but just as much on the painful: the aging parents, divorces, deaths, navigating the new normal. “The gods of Yale did something right bringing us together all those years ago—the years melted away, and the smiles and laughter were even more precious today,” wrote Ward (now an Annapolis, Maryland, portfolio specialist) in an email to the class afterward. “Who better to connect with than the people who helped make me me?”

The ’83 reunion sparked a flood of reminiscences. “How joyous to spend a few hours with former classmates in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Laughter. Memories. Serious discussions of aging parents. Celebrations of children. And yet, it momentarily seemed, we were all young twenty-something-year-olds again,” wrote Antonio Alcala, an Alexandria, Virginia, stamp designer for the USPS. Brooklyn photographer David Lee, too, was “amazed at the giddy maybe-euphoria it stirred up,” even for someone who has “a very conflicted relationship with nostalgia. I’m wary of its seduction, its sepia’d overlay effect.”

For Tricia Borga Suvari, now a biotech attorney in the San Francisco Bay area, “Just hearing certain voices brought so much back. And the faces! Older but quickly recognizable—the kernel of our (much) younger selves still there.” As Tom Fahsbender, a teacher and middle school director in Norfolk, Connecticut, wrote, “What a gift to have had these people in my life, and then to have them back again.”

It’s a feeling shared by at least six decades of alums. Errin Arruda Timmer ’00 echoed many when she called these reunions “the best part of the week.” My classmate Brad Blower, a civil-rights attorney in Takoma Park, Maryland, summed it up nicely as “one of the few silver linings of this pandemic.”

We all hope COVID will soon be a memory. But let’s hold on to these rekindled friendships. What a comfort to know that long after we leave campus, the light of those bright college years continues to warm us. 

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