Homecoming 2008.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 September

About my anticlimactic 10-year college reunion.

The year is 2018. Meaning it’s been 30 years since I graduated from high school, and 20 since graduating from Bethany College, later Bethany University.

Do I feel old? Sure. I’ve felt old for years. Being old is fun. Especially since I don’t look it, still have all my hair, and none of it gray. I regularly startle the people at work when they find I’m not just a little older than them, but old enough to be their dad. (It’s the genes; my parents look young too.) But I don’t have any hangups about being old. Just the opposite: Bring on the senior discounts!

So is it a big year for class reunions? Not in the slightest.

Ten years ago, in 2008, there was a huge push for the high school reunion, organized by two people from my high school; one from my class, and one from the year before. I had no interest in attending, ’cause I didn’t like high school and had very few friends there. (Most of my friends were from church, and went to other schools.) The organizers spent months pestering the rest of us about registration. Especially when the down payments became due, and they quickly realized their grandiose three-day festival was gonna have to be seriously downscaled—that, or they’d have to personally be on the hook for everything. So their banquet, dance, and follow-up brunch had to be downscaled to a barbecue. Man were they bitter about that. Followed it up with some of the most hostile, passive-aggressive invitations I’d ever read. It was moderately attended, largely by people I don’t care about, or really remember. Very glad I didn’t bother.

So that’s likely why I’ve heard nothing at all from them about the 30-year reunion. Nor the 25-year in 2013; the wounds would’ve still been too sore.

As for college, some plans are fomenting from my CSU Sacramento journalism school friends, and that might come to something. But nothing from the Bethany alumni. The school closed its doors in 2011. Now all that’s left of it is a giant debt left over from years of financial mismanagement, a hostile alumni page on Facebook where people are still bitter about the school closing, and a campus that’s been since bought by hippies and turned into 1440 Multiversity. Bethany class reunions were organized by the school and held during Homecoming, but with no more school, I don’t expect anybody to put together any 20-year reunion. My class president, whom I’m still in touch with, hasn’t brought it up that I know of. She has a life, y’see.

I attended the 10-year reunion during Homecoming 2008. It was kinda pathetic. I was living in the area, and had Saturday free, so I went to it. Well, parts of it. May as well write about it.

The agenda.

Here’s the schedule of activities for that weekend.

Friday, 15 February 2008.
11 am. Guest Speaker and Alumni of the Year, Daniel Stump.
11:45 am. Hall of Fame Luncheon.
3 pm. Alumni vs. Alumni Game.
5 pm. Reception Dinner.
5:30 pm. Women’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson College.
7:30 pm. Men’s Basketball Game vs. Simpson.
9:30 pm. Presidential Reception.
Saturday, 16 February 2008.
8:30 am. Continental Breakfast.
10 am. Award Chapel.
12 pm. Lunch.
2 pm. Decade Party.

They charged us alumni $50 for the whole shebang: $24 if we were only gonna attend Friday, and $28 if only Saturday. Plus they wanted alumni dues. What’s the purpose of alumni dues? It was to put me on a mailing list, then every year send me a glossy newsletter of all the great things Bethany was doing, in the hopes I’d send them yet more money. Basically I would pay them to ask me for money. So, nah.

Everything turned out an anticlimactic waste of time. Which I should’ve expected, considering it was put together by the school administration, and not the alumni. Remember what I said about financial mismanagement? Bethany was run by church people who did not know how to finance a school. There was no endowment. It was funded by tuition and donations. Donations from churches, I should add; not billionaires. That’s all. The fact it hadn’t gone under years ago is a miracle. Homecoming was therefore a fundraiser more so than a reunion. So of course it was crummy.

I didn’t bother with Friday. I stayed home and watched movies.

’Cause I didn’t know the guest speaker and didn’t care. Didn’t care about the Hall of Fame luncheon; I knew it’d consist of Café Bethany food, and I wasn’t nostalgic for it, and the Hall of Famers weren’t all that famous. The Alumni vs. Alumni game would’ve been awesome had it been paintball, but it was simply middle-aged guys playing basketball. The reception dinner would be dinner with then-President Max Rossi talking about Bethany’s amazing potential future (of three years, but he didn’t know that yet) and therefore please give money.

Then basketball. At Bethany, intercollegiate athletics is and has always been a giant money pit. Basketball and volleyball existed to give scholarships to certain kids who couldn’t afford school otherwise. I knew many a student athlete in my time at Bethany. Most were largely unconnected with student life, and demonstrated nothing but contempt for campus spiritual life, figuring it was all hypocrisy because they themselves were hypocrites. Of course there were exceptions; some really outstanding Christians who are still serving Jesus in their communities. But there had to be some other way to get these guys scholarships. The rest served no useful purpose to the school except to win games. And they often didn’t.

Then the presidential reception: I actually crashed one of them during my undergrad years. It’s pretty much coffee, hors d’oeuvres, and the president schmoozing with potential donors. It’s so people can come down after all the excitement during basketball game… provided Bethany won. I thought about actually crashing the reception, but I had no interest in the other Friday events.

I did go to the Saturday stuff though.

8:30 a.m. Continental Breakfast.

No chafing dishes; just cold muffins and scones and fruit. And hot beverages. Since I was paying $28 for what amounts to two meals and small talk, it was a bit disheartening that my first meal was gonna suck hard. I felt like going to the Starbucks down the road instead. But I went anyway. I was fleetingly tempted to pull one of my dad’s stunts, and smuggle extra scones out of there so I could get my money’s worth. But nah; I decided I’d just eat a lot of them.

I showed up early, and after a few minutes got in there, got my nametag, and proceeded to scarf down bagels and scones and raisin bran. And lots of coffee. The café had apparently switched to serving good coffee. When I went to Bethany for some graduate classes the café served Starbucks coffee, but they didn’t really know how to brew it properly. (And I suspect they were using Scotts Valley tap water, which tastes like ass. Literally. Like a dead ass was dropped into the aquifer, where its sulfurous carcass tainted every sip.) Of course, there’s the question of whether the café had actually improved the coffee, or simply made a Starbucks run to appease the alumni.

I figured, “Well, the class of ’98 has gotta show up at some point, so I’ll make sure there’s a table for them,” and I picked out an empty table and started eating at it. About 15 minutes in, it occurred to me the gang may very well have gone to the Presidential Reception last night, decided to move on to an after-party elsewhere, and decided to ditch the Continental Breakfast because they’re too hung over tired. A member of the class of ’61 figured the same thing. So the next thing you know, I was at a table with a bunch of seventy-somethings, and they were discovering to their horror I actually believe in both Jesus and global warming.

It was interesting listening to them reminisce. Some of them were there when the school moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz back in the late ’50s, and they had some zany memories.

Five cups of coffee later, I went to the chapel. I was hoping to avoid it by running into some interesting classmates and talking with them instead, but meh.

10 a.m. Award Chapel.

Because isn’t everybody’s fondest memories of Christian college the chapel services? (That was sarcasm, by the way.)

During breakfast the Alumni Coordinator had asked me whether I’d like to go be a part of the Alumni Choir, which was warming up before the service. I declined with my usual, “I don’t think anyone wants to hear me sing.”

I assumed some of my class was in the choir. None were. In fact, the only person in my class there at the chapel at all, was Alumni Association President Abe Daniel (who’s now the pastor of Trinity Life Center in Sacramento). Everyone else… well, I met a very few people from ’88, a larger bunch from ’78, a lot of people from ’68, and even more people from ’58. Which makes sense. Older people tend to be retired and can afford to make the time for Homecoming. People in their 30s don’t always feel the nostalgia kick in just yet. Wait till 40.

The service began with some scholarship recipients, who wished to thank the Alumni Association, so Abe had them get up on stage while he read their thank-you speeches. Why’d he read them? Why couldn’t they read them? I didn’t remember to ask him later. Maybe it was for the sake of time; maybe they were nervous; maybe Abe liked to hear himself talk… Nah, they were probably nervous.

Then we sang a hymn, and we were introduced to the current ASB Student Senate, as if we cared. The ASB president said a few words, which indicated he must’ve been elected for personal popularity, ’cause it sure wasn’t for public speaking skills. Hey, so long that he’s doing a good job.

Garland Covington was presented the Heritage Award, so he said a few words. Pretty much all the award recipients didn’t know why they were deserving of an award. Alice Alford (who won the Founders’ Award) joked they ran out of worthy recipients, so they decided to give ’em to everyone else, and since her name starts with A, she’s first. Jay Swartzendruber, who won the Outstanding Young Alumnus Award, didn’t show up to receive it, but sent some remarks. Really, nobody does what they do so they can get awards from their alma mater; if that were true, how pathetic would that be?

The Alumni Choir came after Covington. First they sang the GTBI Song. Glad Tidings Bible Institute was Bethany’s original name, when it was in San Francisco, and some of the visiting alumni were actually GTBI alumni. So we sang their school song. Then we sang the Bethany Alma Mater. It was written back when Bethany was still called Bethany College, but in 2005 it became Bethany University, so the song was altered: In the two instances where it had “college,” it now had “university.” Trouble is, it now had three extra syllables in two different lines, and attempting to compress “university” into two syllables became chaos.

“Someone needs to write a new song,” I told Abe later. “And put a backbeat in it.”

“Not me,” he said.

Then the choir sang an old Pentecostal hymn, a few more people accepted awards, the Bethany Ambassadors sang some worship songs… which I’ll rant about another time. (The Ambassadors were fine, but their song selection… yeah, I’ll rant about it later.)

Then we had karaoke: Dan Fryer and Lisa Jensen, two fiftysomethings with really big ’80s hair (which is how you know they’re fiftysomethings), got up and sang along to a CD track. Since this took place in Bethany's chapel, where the sound system also dated from the ’80s, their monitors (if they even had any) in no way matched the external speakers. So they had no idea how much their voices were being drowned out by the cheesy backing harmonies of the CD, and how the sound guy—all the way in the back of the chapel, unable to actually hear anything, since there are no speakers back there—was desperately trying to balance them as they sang. Great Thundering Zeus, it was awful. Profoundly awful. But we clapped anyway because we’re all nice Christians. Plus many of the older alumni suffered from hearing loss.

If you recall the TV show American Idol, where people would try out for the competition despite having no idea they weren’t any good: This is why. They sing in church, get pity applause, and this only encourages them to inflict their “talent” upon even more people. Until they meet an honest audience, and fail humiliatingly. See folks, this is why honesty is the best policy. I know you wanna spare their feelings, but think of the hundreds of people who have to experience this horror again. Anyway, side rant over.

President Rossi then got up to speak, and of course did his job of begging for money. We had to watch a video of how Bethany planned to build a new dorm… and throw in a conference center while they’re at it. Of course, since everyone was aware Bethany was on its last legs, I doubt he raised much.

12 p.m. Lunch.

If you visited the campus on any other day, Café Bethany lunch was $5. So I was getting severely overcharged here. I also knew from experience that the students—the ones currently paying to be there, like I was as an undergrad when Homecoming rolled around—resented having alumni eat better-than-average food while they ate the average stuff in the Fireside Room. But this year the students got to eat in the café too, and eat the same stuff the alumni did, so lucky them.

Again I optimistically figured the class of ’98 might finally show up, so I took a solo table. Then nobody showed. I eventually wound up with then-current Bethany students at my table.

“You don’t usually eat this well on a Saturday, I take it,” I said to one student.

“Never,” she said.

“And that’s the dumb thing,” I said. “We’re alumni. We know what Bethany is like. We lived here. We know the buildings are falling apart, and the food sucks, and administrators have huge plans that won’t ever go anywhere but they really want money for it. Who do they think they’re kidding?”

I don’t know if my ranting drove them away, but they did leave awfully quickly. Eventually the folks who sat by me at breakfast came over, and we talked a little about grandchildren and HMOs. No, that’s not a joke to point out how much older they were. That’s seriously what we talked about.

The food wasn’t bad; salad and vegetables and grilled chicken, served on the chafing trays because they didn’t want us wandering through the cafeteria-style serving tables and experiencing some flashbacks of what college food is really like.

Abe took advantage of the fact we were all at lunch together to perform some Alumni Association business. We had to approve a new member to the Alumni board. Since I know the candidate, Kirk Smith (he was ASB vice-president on my first year in the Student Senate, and now works as a stand-up comedian) I figured he was pretty unlikely to screw up the job, and voted for him.

When I was an undergrad, our lunchtime conversations would occasionally last till about 2. Everyone would be gone—the café staff trying to shoo us out of there—and we’d still go nattering along about whether Jesus’s students ever played soccer, or whether New Jerusalem will have indoor plumbing, or whether King David in his youth ever worried his sheep. I’ve never initiated any of the more inane conversations, but for whatever reason I felt obligated to put them to rest, and so we’d go on and on and on till we absolutely had to leave for our afternoon commitments. No doubt some of us can still talk like that. I certainly can. But apart from Abe and Kirk, who were busy, none of my classmates were around.

Plus for some reason, probably because someone owed Satan a favor, Fryer and Jensen popped in a CD and proceeded to “entertain” us for the rest of our meal. As I felt the bile rise, I told the folks at my table, “I don’t think it’s possible to be too early for the Decade Party,” and left.

2 p.m. Decade Party.

Alumni were bunched into decades, ’cause if you graduated in an odd year, you had to hang out with somebody. Anyway I went to the ’90s party, which was in the Spot, also called the Robert Harrison Student Union. When I was an undergrad, it used to be the bookstore, and I lived on the third floor. Everyone who graduated from 1990 to 1999 were expected to go to the Spot and reunite.

What made it a “party” was that the Homecoming coordinators had provided us with two 12-packs of canned iced tea. Yes indeedy, that was $28 well spent on Homecoming.

I actually arrived for the Decade Party an hour early. I spent the entire hour reading, and waiting for other people to show up. Gradually they did. In all there were about 12 of us: Most of us were alumni, and the rest were spouses and kids.

We hung out for about two hours, said hi, talked about what we’d done in the past decade and what we were doing now, loosely caught each other up on the classmates we knew who weren’t there, resisted the temptation to manufacture malicious, scandalous gossip about the ones who said they were coming and didn’t (okay, that was just me) and left around 4.

“We need to get everyone to attend next Homecoming,” one of them commented. Well, we didn’t.

A number of them drifted in late because, wisely, they only attended the Decade Party. And didn’t bother to pay for it. ’Cause why? For $28 you could instead feed the whole family at Quizno’s. (Which closed all their stores in my area during the recession. I miss Quizno’s.) I don’t think they even bothered to drink the iced tea.

Like I said, anticlimactic. I walked home and got ready for the Sunday morning church service.

So, this year: Likely nothing will happen this year. And that’s okay. At some point someone will get super nostalgic, insist upon one, arrange something, aim too high, and be really disappointed. I might attend it anyway. Till then, we can hunt one another down on Facebook and catch up that way.