April 14, 2024

Haverford Reunion

Haverford College Class of 1978 at 40th reunion in 2018. (photo/Keith Schneider)

Here’s a sweet story of friendship, family, and love. Every five years my close friends from Haverford College gather for our class of 1978 reunion. These are don’t-miss affairs for me, and for them. Memorial Day weekend marked our 45th reunion. I attended this year because those friendships produced entirely unanticipated virtues.

In March, Gabrielle scheduled hip replacement surgery two weeks prior to the reunion. Our email train includes the fellas and their wives, all of whom are dear, dear friends. I alerted the group on March 22. “Gents, it looks like I’m going to miss the reunion. Gabrielle is having hip surgery May 16. I’m going to be here in Michigan with her during recovery. I regret not joining you. So it goes. If something changes I’ll let you know.”

P.R. and Bruce West, David Leveille, Todd Essig (l to r). (Photo/Keith Schneider)

Three weeks later I sent a second message. “Today I completed the online form to attend the reunion and paid the necessary fees. See you at Haverford. How is that possible? Love and generosity and friendship. The essential elements of our abiding relationships in this community of Haverford classmates and their partners.

“The day after I let you know I wouldn’t make the reunion Alice [Walker] and Sara [O’Connor] texted Gabrielle and said they’d like to come to Michigan to participate in her post-surgery recovery for six days – arrive Thursday and depart Tuesday – that spanned the reunion weekend. Yasemin [Ciftci] is looking at her schedule to see if she can join them. 

“No writer should ever say “words can not describe.” This turn of events, though, draws me closer than I have ever been to being speechless. Ours has been a journey of sharing, of trust, of loyalty, and great fun. What’s happening here is breathtaking, humbling, and so appreciated. ‘We are family,’ Alice told me today. See you all at the end of May.”

Jim Walker and Bob O’Connor, husbands of Gabrielle’s Michigan reunion care givers. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

How was the reunion? It was great. They all are great. This year we had two reunions. One in Pennsylvania. A second here in Michigan. Both were a celebration of the time we’ve spent together, the cords of shared experience that tie us together and have kept the men in each other’s lives for almost 50 years, and the women for nearly all that time, too.

We were the last all-male class of a small private (now co-ed) college that promoted principles of stewardship, accountability, and responsibility that all of us share and express in our lives. Three of my friends spent their careers in public service: law enforcement, transportation, and housing. Two taught. Four are lawyers. One is a psychologist. One is a physician. One is a businessman. Two are journalists.

I’ve written about my Haverford brothers, all of them talented men who met each other as young men and stayed connected. We spend time in each other’s homes. We party regularly in various states. Our wives are close. We’ve danced at each other’s weddings, blessed births, celebrated weddings of our children, marked birthdays of grandchildren, and buried parents. We attend college reunions. While we’ve not yet reached the “God willing” stage of our lives, we’ve begun to bury each other. We’ve lost two friends and classmates since the 40th reunion.

Pierce Homer. one of the speakers at memorial service for Steve Sawyer. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

At this year’s reunion we planted a tree and convened for a memorial service, blessed by our kinship, a warm sun, and the storied spring beauty of the 190 year old campus. Over lunch one of the speakers turned to me and said how lucky we’ve been. That’s true, I replied, noting that I’m naturally an optimist. He continued, recognizing the excellent careers, the tight marriages, the children, the generally good health we’ve enjoyed, the relative prosperity. The way we are bound together, for life. “If I called you at two in the morning I know you’d answer and do what was needed,” he said. “Without hesitation.”

Of such moments are reunions made. On the drive home I reflected on that. We arrived at Haverford in 1974, when the country was at the height of the empire and ambitious young guys like us had all the smarts and moxie to thrive in an economy operating under rules of engagement that were predictable. Get educated. Aim high. Work hard. Perform. We understood that 80 percent of success was just showing up. Our engine was confidence. Our fuel was opportunity.

It was a long time ago. A different America. Major metropolitan newspapers thrived. Walter Cronkite was America’s most trusted person. Decent men – Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter – managed the country. Students led the campaign to end South African apartheid. Atmospheric CO2 levels were 328 parts per million, 100 ppm less than now. The great myth of American exceptionalism was paramount. The idea that America faced any existential risk was viewed as preposterous.

Peter Puchek and yours truly. (Photo/Haverford College)

As adults we encountered much more turbulence. The country sustained one body blow after another. Reagan’s presidency of deregulation and mismanagement. Deep recessions. Christian nationalism and homophobia. 9/11. Iraq and Afghanistan. Drought and fires and storms. Diseases. The immense power and influence of online everything. Millions loyal to MAGA madness, wedded to lies, and determined to wreck democracy.

So nearly 50 years after we met, and 45 years after we graduated, dear friends connected as we’ve always done. There’s no artifice in this group. Other than some heavy drinking, we have no rituals. We aren’t much into nostalgia. We revel in the time together, the awareness that we have been lucky. We hug at the weekend’s close knowing that we’re sure to see other again very soon.

— Keith Schneider

Todd Essig defined the durable connections that tie Haverford friends to each other for life. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
John Cascino at the memorial. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
A pandemic gathering in February 2021. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
Haverford is a much different place. The college educates more women than men now.
Graduates attend reunions with their young children. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
We gather often. In February on Folly Beach in South Carolina.
From left – me, Bob O’Connor, Andrew Solberg, Jim Walker, Yasemin Ciftci, Sara O’Connor. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
We gather for weddings. In June 2022 for Tark Solberg’s wedding. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
The Michigan reunion. Sara, Gabrielle and Alice. (Photo/Keith Schneider)
We gather for our own weddings. Here the July 2018 wedding party for me and Gabrielle in Somerset, KY. (Photo/Keith Schneider)

2 thoughts on “Haverford Reunion

  1. Your Haverford Reunion story is beautifully written, inspiring and heartwarming, Keith.
    The assistance provided to Gabrielle during her surgical recovery is a stunning
    example of deep and abiding friendship in action. What a magnificent gift this was to both Gabrielle & Keith, as well as to his four Haverford classmate-friends !

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