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Being true to connections

By John Pixley

“Hey, guess who retired?”

“Marcia.”

“Yeah, Marcia! And they didn’t even give her a send-off! She just left...”

He had told me last year that Marcia was about to retire. I had known Marcia when I was a student at UC Riverside, from which I graduated in 1985, and she was in charge of helping the disabled students there get the equipment and assistance they needed to do the work for their classes. He has a similar job at another UC campus and would see Marcia from time to time at meetings.

He and I would see each other nearly every year. We were talking recently at an annual gathering that takes place over Memorial Day weekend. I have gone to the gathering in the hills above Malibu every year since 2001, and he has been at most of those as well.

When I began attending the gathering and when I met him, UC Riverside and Marcia were far in my past. With the usual and unusual twists and turns, things were different, and it seemed a lifetime or two since I graduated. The gathering was very much part of my life now—something I never thought I would be doing when I was in Riverside—but then it turned out that he, in my life now, knew Marcia, knew a part of my life back then.

This was one of many connections that happen all the time. Even so, they tend to be a surprise, and this one was all the more surprising because it was so unexpected. Meeting a former disabled UC student may or may not have been unusual and surprising to him, but meeting someone who works with disabled UC students and who—what’s more—knows someone who did this with me when I was a UC student was definitely a surprise for me.

But sometimes a connection that is or should be expected turns out to be a real shock. I saw this a few years ago with another UC connection, this time a fellow UC Riverside graduate who I had been close to while there.

I have my complaints about Facebook and don’t go on it as much as most people seem to, but I have to say that the way it helps people connect or re-connect is pretty amazing. This is what happened a few years ago when I got a message that I wasn’t sure about.

The name of the guy was different, and his picture was not what I remembered, but there was something familiar. Could this be Russell, who had been one of my best friends in college, who I had not seen or heard from in 25 years, who I had always wondered about?

It turned out that it was Russell and, after a flurry of excited e-mail messages and about a week, I found myself going to have dinner with him in West LA, where he has been living and working quite successfully. Going to meet someone who I had not had any contact with for half of my life was very odd, even scary, but it was great to see him. I felt bad for losing touch with him after school, but it’s good that we’re back in touch and that we see each other from time to time (I told him I don’t want it to be another 25 years!).

No doubt it will be easier for those who graduated from the colleges here a few weeks ago not to lose touch with one another. Not seeing and hearing from each other for 25 years is much more unlikely now. As I have noted before, these graduates live much of their lives online, with Facebook only the beginning and possibly “so yesterday” (as my nephew informed me MySpace—remember MySpace?—was about five years ago).

Whether because of this or despite this, the connections these graduates have to Claremont will be all the more important, all the more precious.

This important, precious connection is perhaps most dramatically seen in such events as Pomona College’s Alumni Weekend, which always appears to draw a nice crowd in early May, right before the end of the school year. Centered on Marston Quad in front of Bridges Auditorium, it looks like a community carnival or really like a fete on an English country estate, with colorful tents and boxed lunches on the lawn, the class parade and concerts by the college band and glee club.

Fundraising is doubtlessly what this is all about, but connections definitely are a big part. This weekend plays a key role in maintaining and nurturing the ties to and among the college’s graduates. (When I go by, I am particularly amused to see the obviously very recent graduates. I wonder how they can afford this little weekend jaunt, and I imagine them slipping so easily back into the dorms and whatever favorite nooks, reliving their college days and nights.)

As busy and buzzy as the alumni weekends are, there are many, many graduates who don’t attend, but most will surely find at least a few connections in the future with their college days. And even with, or perhaps because of, Facebook or whatever, some may well be a surprise. And, as me with the city of Riverside, which I really don’t recognize when I’ve had to go there in recent years, their days in Claremont probably don’t have much to do with Claremont. (A couple years ago at Pomona College’s graduation, a student speaker pronounced Claremont “a nice retirement community.”)

Of course, it is a different situation, as it was for me, for most of those who will be receiving degrees at the commencement ceremony this next week at Claremont High School. Claremont will always be so much more than the town where their school was. As with me, Claremont, and all its connections, will be part of their lives, whether settled here or roaming everywhere but here.

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