For Washington University alumni, 50th reunion is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. The pandemic, however, complicated this milestone for graduates from the Classes of 1970 and 1971. After two years of pivots and patience, their special moment finally arrived in May, when the university hosted an epic in-person 50th reunion celebration for the Classes of 1970, 1971 and 1972. The weekend was jubilant, nostalgic and, most important, well worth the wait. Here, alumni from each class reflect on their alma mater and the experience of returning to campus 50 years — give or take — after graduating.
Feels like home
Unfamiliar surroundings, new people and greater freedom make the transition to college an adjustment for almost every teenager. Moon Nahm, AB ’70, MD ’74, arguably felt these changes more acutely than his peers. Along with his parents and older sister, Nahm emigrated from South Korea to St. Louis in 1965. Then a high school senior, he was immediately thrust into the college application process. With the help of his counselors, he gained admission to WashU.
Nahm was still acclimating to life in the United States when he entered WashU. It was as if he had to learn two languages — English as well as American culture and customs. Nahm recalls petitioning for his native Korean to count toward the university’s foreign language requirement and his confusion at being asked to bring a “blue book” to an art history exam. “Everything was still new,” he says.
But buoyed by his WashU professors and classmates, Nahm excelled in his first year. Money was tight for his family, so he wrote to the financial aid office about the situation. To his surprise, the university offered him a scholarship. Though the award was small, it had an incalculable effect on him: WashU believed in his potential, and he began to believe more in himself.
Upon earning a bachelor’s degree in physics, Nahm stayed at WashU for medical school. He has lived in Birmingham, Alabama, for decades now, but his alma mater retains a special place in his heart and mind. “Whenever I think of WashU, I think of home,” Nahm says. “The school is my home.”
After a two-year delay, he made his way back to campus with his wife for 50th reunion. Although many of his closest friends couldn’t attend the in-person festivities, he met and reconnected with others. He also spent quality time with his sister and brother-in-law, both of whom are alumni. “It was magical,” he says of the weekend. “It felt like traveling back in time to my happy youth.”
Back to the beginning
On a perfect blue-skied Friday in 1968, Gail Brody Klein, AB ’71, spotted Roger Klein, AB ’71, lounging in the Brookings Quadrangle after class and went to join him. The two were chatting in the sunshine when a photographer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch approached and asked to snap their picture. Captioned “when spring arrives on campus,” the photo appeared in the next day’s paper.
Married for five decades now, the Kleins returned to that cherished spot in the Quad during their 50th reunion. “We both knew the exact patch of grass where we were sitting in the photo,” Gail says.
The couple has attended many reunions, but this year’s celebration felt particularly monumental, even a little bittersweet. “You reach a certain age when it becomes important to go back and remember other parts of your life,” Roger muses. “We were barely 18 years old when we met at WashU. It was a time of real innocence for us.” After graduating, he became an attorney, and she worked for several years as a teacher before raising three children at their home outside Washington, D.C.
As undergraduates, Gail focused diligently on her studies and graduated magna cum laude, while Roger juggled numerous extracurricular activities. He was elected Student Union president and appointed a student representative to the Board of Trustees. He joined Phi Sigma Delta fraternity and was a member of Thurtene junior honorary. Fifty years later, he and Gail channeled that participatory energy as part of the Class of 1971 Reunion committee. Roger delivered a speech at the medallion ceremony in Graham Chapel, and the couple led their class procession onto Francis Olympic Field during Commencement. They even squeezed in a dinner at Tony’s, their favorite special-occasion place in St. Louis, between on-campus commitments.
Of the whirlwind weekend, Gail says, “It brought back a lot of memories of our youth and falling in love. Roger and I were happy to be there and to revisit the place where our life together began.”
Defining his mission
A native of Rockville, Maryland, Jonathan Weaver, BSBA ’72,was one of only a few Black students in his entering class. But it didn’t take long for him to find community and purpose at WashU. Several months into his first year, an altercation between the university police and a Black graduate student prompted members of the Association of Black Collegians to occupy Brookings Hall in protest. Weaver decided to participate and planted himself in the accounts payable department for five days.
For Weaver, the experience was pivotal. “I really came to understand the importance of fighting for justice, equity and fairness,” he says.
He went on to become a campus leader, serving as president of the newly reorganized Association of Black Students and as a representative to the university’s Board of Trustees. During his junior year, a fellow student introduced him to Operation Crossroads Africa, a nonprofit sponsoring community development projects across Africa. Through the organization, he spent a summer helping to build a medical clinic in a small village near Lagos, Nigeria. Like the demonstration at Brookings Hall, the trip proved formative and catalyzed Weaver’s lifelong commitment to advancing education and health care in Africa.
Weaver earned a degree in business, but he received an equal education in confidence, character and kindness at WashU. “With motivation, determination and the encouragement of my classmates and professors, I realized I didn’t have to place any limits on myself,” he says. “WashU instilled in me a spirit of caring and compassion and a true respect for people of all backgrounds.”
Weaver continues to live out these values as a pastor and philanthropist. He still marvels at how much of his life’s work was influenced by his undergraduate years. In WashU, Weaver sees not only his past but also his future. As he celebrated his 50th reunion, he watched his grandson, Trey Davis, graduate with the Class of 2022 and become the family’s third WashU alumnus.