This is the year of my 50th college reunion and here is my ode about what I think about that.
The 50th Reunion of the Class of 1973 (and a Tip of the Hat to the Class of 2023)
So is this where sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll ends?
With grandchildren, prostate problems and Depends?
Not for the class of 1973
On this, our 50th anniversary!
We’re the Alums that never stopped having fun…
For us our college years were just a dry run
So why try to remember what I’ve forgot?
Maybe it’s a little. Maybe it’s a lot.
Who cares? Fifty years of paranoia
Now pot’s legal’n, some say, even good for ya.
Forget that thought that we are all old relics.
Now shrinks treat patients with our psychedelics.
Memory and “smarts” never go hand in glove.
I’ve no memory of what my major was.
Who cares, long as they don’t take my diploma back
If my “memory lane” is a cul-de-sac!
I do still remember my graduation!
That 50th, class of ’23, had some fun!
And that is one thing that I’ll never forget.
Them dancing to James Brown, I really regret.
I’ll tell you the whole truth. I will tell you no lie.
Wasn’t exactly “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Man, we lived through some stuff you just can’t forget:
Watergate, Berlin Wall, and the Chia Pet.
But wait! Just stop and wait. I wonder what we
Look like to the grads of 2023?
They’re so advanced I check for hair on my palms.
They have evolved so much! They’re truly phenoms.
I still type with both hands and I feel very dumb.
Darwin was right. Now they can type with their thumbs.
Oh, but we’ve got wisdom in the class of ’73!
First, you must accept Harvard’s study on longevity.
It is not your new Harvard degree or your new PhD.
Joy comes from your classmates, and your friends and your family.
Second, the older you get the shorter your stories should be.
And last, “Peace ’n Love!” from the great class of ’73.
For the last 10 or so years I’ve been a poet laureate. I love the school, I love my class, and I love my classmates, and all I have to do to keep the job is hope the alumni laugh. This is a very prestigious job which pays nothing and thus has made me irreplaceable.
I want to share joy, appreciation, and an observation during this hardship on all graduating seniors, whether from high school, college, or any school, during this, our second COVID Graduation.
I don’t really remember that much about all the details of my high school graduation. But I do know that the friends I made and that school itself still shape my life with a respect for the arts and a respect for the uniqueness of the lives of the different people of that school.
My college graduation I do remember, but more because I have made new friends each year when I return to carry out my responsibilities on the “Happy Committee.” The alums on the Happy Committee put on and manage the graduation each year, so I relive the happiness of my graduation each year by helping others celebrate.
In both cases, my memories of graduation have been shaped over the years by the present more than the past.
For the last nine years, I have written a humorous, often self-mocking ode, which I read at the Spring meetings of my Alumni Association. Last year, there was no graduation because of COVID, so my ode had to be videoed outdoors and delivered by Zoom at the meeting.
This year that ritual had to be repeated again, as a “pandemic déjà vu. ..all over again.” But this time I compared the university’s response to the influenza of 1918 with its improved response to the present pandemic, in again a humorous, self-mocking effort to tell a story of joy and uniqueness.
This year, my advice to those graduating is to stay in touch with your classmates. You will find that those reunions and the evolving friendships will make these strange years even more precious even though you had to suffer through a Zoom graduation.
My guess is that you will share the humor from all of this with your classmates over time, and the bonds will grow stronger because of the uniqueness of this year—and because you survived all the craziness.
If you loved your education or even if you didn’t, but love the people, the culture — and you are pretty certain you should have never been admitted — you are a born Poet Laureate.
If you are worried about qualifications, no license is required. And what is really great is that there are endless jobs available because in most institutions this job has not even been created — so you can fill it by volunteering and hold it endlessly as long as you are keeping the alumni laughing.
And if you are worried about keeping your integrity this is absolutely the job for you! You can test this:
Call a restaurant and tell them you are a Poet Laureate. You will get a table next to the kitchen. You can insist on no favoritism and be certain that your request will be honored.
And it is not “a low paying job”! It is a no paying job, so you pay no taxes! And there are other hidden benefits:
I have found that as long as I have been a Poet Laureate they have not revoked my degree. In my case, that’s important.
I have been the Poet Laureate of the Harvard Alumni Association for the last eight years and I am living proof that no talent is richly rewarded for the pure pleasure of just doing this job.
Yes, I have proof:
The job requires that I present my “ode” at the Annual Spring Meetings of the Alumni Association and, for the last two years, for different reasons, it has been videoed.
Have fun with it. Two weeks ago, because of the coronavirus, I bemoaned the cancellation of our graduation and celebrated our student athletes and our football team:
The year before, I celebrated the Harvard Magazine and my former father-in-law:
On Friday, March 6th, I headed home on a mid-morning train from NYC. We had been busy. The day before, we had finished a third table reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine. The atmosphere had been wonderful and the actors had greeted each other with hugs and kisses, celebrating the act of making theater.
Other than my wife, this was the last time I have been within six feet of anybody for almost two months. Everyone in the world I know is in quarantine.
I have tracked my friends in New York and elsewhere, as some of them have gotten the virus, gone dark, and returned to report they are better but have lost friends to the disease.
The realization that this will not end easily for anybody has been made clear every morning as I’ve watched a cold spring come to Maryland under iron gray skies. I have been waiting for good news or some sign of change. I want the everyday life that I will always remember but will not see again.
Today, I decided to gather the little things that I might have taken for granted before, and make them into an exciting life that must be coming.
A year ago this week, I recited my 7th annual Harvard Alumni Association poet laureate poem (a “serious” bit of frivolity which I dearly love). This year, because the alumni meetings will be held virtually, I was asked to write it and have it videoed for presentation tomorrow. Instead of being disappointed I will not see my friends and fellow alumni and present it to a live audience, I reviewed the video and found myself laughing.
Finally, the play I was afraid would die in New York City after that great reading, we have just been informed is a finalist for the New York Rave Theater Festival and is being considered for perforce in NYC in October.
A different world is evolving now, but at least personally it is starting to feel like we are starting to wake up from a sleepless night to a coming spring.
For me, the “future” is like a churning cement truck going to a job. The “present” is the dump of the watery mixture and its slow and permanent hardening. The “past” are the hardened roads I travel on again and again and again. Only the gift of “accident” can break apart all three and only with “creativity” do I become released and reborn to grow into a maturing perspective.
Over the last six years, I have been chosen to help The Alumni Association at Harvard put on graduation. I look forward to this and accept with pleasure each year when it is offered. I dress up in a silly top hat and tails to escort the honorary degree recipients and their families at Harvard’s graduation. It is an unusual and informative experience.
Rick, my son, and I are very close. After graduating from Dickinson College, his high school asked him to return to Baltimore to teach and help coach their football program. During these years Rick continued his commitment to education by getting a Master’s Degree from the night school at Johns Hopkins University, which allowed him only one night a week free. During these years Rick and I had dinner together every Monday night.
Rick has always been a very kind and socially conscious person. Rick also has an encyclopedic understanding of football and its rules and strategy. Because there is a deep divide in the opportunities provided in our city, after several years of teaching and coaching at his private high school, Rick elected to join his former head coach and teach at Saint Frances Academy in downtown Baltimore.
The year before Rick joined this school, it had only won one game. The next year, they were undefeated. The following year, they were ranked fourth in the nation.
All of the students on the football team went on to established and respected universities with mostly full scholarships. Rick told me several times that they were the most committed group of young men he had ever met. The school is located in the shadow of the penitentiary.
Rick continued his commitment to both education and football by accepting a graduate assistant position at the University of West Virginia, then followed his coach to the University of Houston. The last two years he has been working 24/7 as a GA for University of Houston’s football team and I never see him anymore.
So those are my hardened roads leading up to this year’s Harvard graduation. Here comes the cement truck: The week before my graduation duties this year, Rick called and said he had a free week. I wanted to see him desperately but I had made my commitment months ago. I asked him, “Do you want to come to Boston?” I couldn’t think of anything more boring for him but he said, “Sure.”
Was this a disaster about to happen or was this a gift of an accident? Rick would not know anybody…
We did everything together. A wonderful lunch with Rick and Lindsey Shepro and John Bowman at B&G oysters (Boston’s best oysters), and a dinner after graduation with Sam and Wendy Plimpton at No.9 Park (Boston’s best restaurant).
It is not easy to be shocked as you watch your child become, before your eyes, more sophisticated than you are. My old friends became his new friends almost instantly. And then we slipped back to our welcome past and beer and a Bruins game on TV and a Red Sox game at Fenway… and a stunning and subtle speech by Angela Merkel in the afternoon of graduation.
So often now, as I become older and easily set in my ways, I look for the gift of the “accident.” It breaks my safe world apart. From broken expectations comes the unexpected rebirth.
Last week I presented my ode for the Harvard Alumni Association to keep them laughing. As the Poet Laureate, I love doing this every year. This year, the subject was Harvard Magazine, and my ex-father-in-law, both of which I love.
For Harvard Magazine
(Portrait of Gentleman Jim)
By Robert R. Bowie, Jr. Ab’73
Whenever I became too confident
Of my perfect Harvard education
My ex-father-in-law, concomitant,
Was there to deliver expiation.
His timing was perfect. He’d watch and wait.
He’d set me up and then he’d set me straight.
Let me describe this kind and gentle man:
In profile he was blessed with a perfect
Semi-circular belly and no can.
Perfect as a backlit window silhouette:
A photo I still love and regret.
A photo my ex-wife wouldn’t forget.
A small piece of a small, but sad divorce.
He has ‘passed on’ but I miss the man.
Comfortable with himself. Steady. On course.
Leaning back with a scotch glass in his hand,
“I sell seeds and satisfy farmers’ needs,
Go to church, plant the garden, pull the weeds.”
Every Easter the two of us would go
Outside to smoke illegal Cuban cigars.
He’d get me to tell him what he should know.
He’d always wait until I’d gone too far.
He’d lean back: “Ahh, hoist by your own petard?”
Flick off his ash and say “Harvard-smavard.”
They’re all gone now, his wife, mine and him.
But still up until the very end
I would package and carry up to him
All my old Harvard Magazines and then
He always put them there in the same place,
Next to the kindling and fireplace.
I drove up a month or so before he died.
He so deeply missed his loving wife.
The reconciliations I had tried
Had failed. Love was leaking out of his life.
The door unlocked, sleeping in his chair
With a Harvard Magazine spread out there
Heaving on his perfect snoring belly,
What a perfect find was all of this?
There was food in the ice box from the deli.
I found whiskey and two glasses. I kissed
Him and asked “What’s this you’re reading you fool?”
With a cagey smile: “It ain’t that bad a school.”