Light & Verity

Stiles celebrates 50th with a reunion

A new kind of reunion: all ages, one residential college.

Gazing out at alumni packed into an elegant new basement theater, Ezra Stiles College master Stephen Pitti ’91 couldn’t help but boast just a little.

“Welcome back,” declared Pitti, a Stiles alumnus, smiling broadly, “to a place where life continues to be good.”

Peter Aaron/Esto

Peter Aaron/Esto

Stiles reuniongoers were able to enjoy the college’s improved courtyard. View full image

The Ezra Stiles College 50th anniversary celebration brought more than 200 alumni back to campus in October for Yale’s first-ever residential college reunion—a chance for Stilesians of every vintage to get a glimpse of the college’s swanky post-renovation digs and learn about the current state of Stiles life. The weekend also served as a pilot for a new kind of reunion, which the executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni—Mark Dollhopf ’77, a Stiles alum—envisions will become a tradition in all of Yale’s 12 colleges.

Alumni, joined by current students, met for panel discussions about life in Stiles, musical performances by current Stilesians, speeches by President Richard Levin ’74PhD and by Provost (and now president-elect) Peter Salovey ’86PhD, and a tapas-inspired dinner in Commons.

But for many Stiles graduates, the weekend’s highlight was a shock-and-awe tour of the new skylit underground activity spaces recently built for Stiles and its sister college, Morse. They’re housed in an addition beneath the crescent-shaped lawn across from Payne Whitney Gymnasium, and they include an expansive theater space, soundproof music practice rooms, an up-to-date computer lab, a weaving room, and a dance studio. The dining hall features a brick pizza oven and an outdoor dining terrace. And the tasteful new modern furniture in the common room is bathed in daylight from new skylights.

“This is like a four-star hotel!” said Donald Edwards ’64 as he surveyed the buffet. “You’d pay $400 a night for this!”

For Laurie Ongley ’81, ’92PhD, a Stilesian who now works at Yale as editor of the undergraduate course catalog, the tour was a vindication. “I used to be jealous of colleges with squash courts in the basement,” said Ongley, one of many Stilesians who remembered their college as a second-class sibling. “To those colleges, I now say, ‘Ha!’”

Returning Stilesians were also enthusiastic about the fact that unlike class reunions, this one was scheduled during a mid-semester weekend, giving them an opportunity to meet and interact with current students. “At a regular reunion, it’s about history, reminiscing, looking backward,” said Muhit Rahman ’79. “To me, what’s going on now is as interesting as talking about what everything was like 35 years ago.”

Some alumni indulged in memories anyway. Mat Stover ’76 and Carol Fessler ’76 reminisced about the night a group of Stilesians hid in the Sterling Memorial Library stacks and then, after closing, raced from floor to floor flipping on lights to spell out what Fessler claimed was “the biggest F-bomb New Haven has ever seen.” Students, in turn, told the alums about not-so-polite messages spelled out in Christmas lights on Lawrance Hall in recent years.

Will cross-generational reunions succeed in the residential colleges? If Stiles is any indication, students and alumni young and old should find plenty to talk about.

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