Alumni gather to thank Swarthmore College

Swarthmore graduate Louise Stubbs Williams, 100, representing the Class of 1934, walks with son David Williams of Wilmington, in the Parade of Classes that started the weekend celebration of the school's 150th anniversary.
Swarthmore graduate Louise Stubbs Williams, 100, representing the Class of 1934, walks with son David Williams of Wilmington, in the Parade of Classes that started the weekend celebration of the school's 150th anniversary. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 09, 2014

For Swarthmore College alumni of decades past and present, it was time to give back to a place that transformed them.

Don Mizell, 65, Class of 1971, donated his 2005 Grammy for Album of the Year, produced for Ray Charles, to the school's Black Cultural Center, which he pushed to get built as an anthropology student.

"This is an outgrowth of my experience here," he said Saturday as he attended an alumni reunion event. "It's an act of gratitude and me saying, 'This [Grammy] exists because of you.' "

Imitation is the best homage for Juan Victor Fajardo, 27, Class of 2009. He's been working with a private foundation to open the first liberal arts college in his native Venezuela, modeling it after Swarthmore. He hopes to nurture and train future leaders for the struggling country, which is in the midst of political, social, and economic upheaval.

They were among the 1,626 alums representing 72 classes and 24 countries - the largest alumni gathering ever on the bucolic campus - to mark Swarthmore's 150th anniversary.

An hour-long Parade of Classes kicked off All-Alumni Weekend just after 10:15 a.m. Saturday, as Swarthmore alums lined up by the year they graduated at Magill Walk to begin the short trek into Scott Outdoor Amphitheater.

At the head of the line was Louise Stubbs Williams, 100, the oldest alum and only representative of the Class of 1934. She was aided by son David Williams, 63, of Wilmington, whom she held for support as they walked just ahead of William Nute Jr., 98, a former pediatrician and missionary from the Class of 1938, who held the arm of daughter Irini Rockwell, 68.

Williams, who lives in Hilton Head, S.C., and has four children, 11 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren, attended Swarthmore from 1930 to 1934, during the middle of the Great Depression.

"We lost a lot of people after the Depression," she said. "They couldn't afford to come back. We had 90 in our class who graduated."

She said her closeknit peer group didn't have cars back then so the private liberal arts college became their source of entertainment and camaraderie. Williams also met her future husband, Ned Williams, on campus - living up to the school's nickname as "the Quaker Matchbox."

"The college was really good to us and provided musicians and dancers to keep us busy," Williams said. "It was a lot of fun and enjoyment. I couldn't wait to go back after every summer."

Once they were seated in the amphitheater nestled in the woods, the alums heard a speech by U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, Class of 1964, who went on to get a law degree from Harvard.

"This place emphasized academic rigor coupled with social consciousness," Rakoff told his attentive audience, which he would later lead in singing "We Shall Overcome" while holding hands. "It underscored that getting a good education wasn't enough. What you did with it was just as important."

Since graduating in 1979, Antoinette Sayeh, 55, who was born in Liberia, has served her broader community. She is director of the African Department at the International Monetary Fund in Washington and manages IMF relationships with 45 sub-Saharan African countries. Swarthmore recruited her from high school in Europe.

"It instilled in me, certainly, a sense of being fortunate and privileged . . . and a sense of obligation to serve," Sayeh said. "That's partly the Quaker tradition, of course. But it went beyond that for me. By being here, you reflected a lot on what you held as values and what you had to do to fulfill your own potential."

The Class of 2009 had the largest number of alumni in attendance, with 135 registered. Fajardo, who traveled 20 hours from Caracas for this weekend's festivities, said the trip was well worth it.

When he started his freshman year at 18, "I had no idea what I was getting into, but this place completely changed my life," Fajardo said as he enjoyed a lunch with all the classes under a large tent. "This place is very unique, and I got to look back at Venezuela from this coast. I began to grapple with the larger issues from a distance . . . and form a sense of responsibility of addressing major problems of the world.

"It's a very special place."

sparmley@phillynews.com856-779-3928 @SuzParmley

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