The Class of 1952 led the Commencement procession with good humor and raincoats, maintaining a sense of fun--perhaps the same one they brought with them as freshmen in 1947.
"It was just after the war, so there was some nostalgia," said Arnold Kramer, the class reunion organizer. "Unlike the class before us, we didn't have a lot of veterans. The class before us was more serious, more sober; some even had families." But the Class of 1952 was made up by and large of 18-year-old college men, happy to be at Tech.
And they still seem like a happy class. Despite the torrents of rain and the damp cold creeping in through wet shoes, they sat in Killian Court, rows and rows of red jackets peeking out the collars of raingear, with smiles on their faces.
"We have a very enthusiastic participating class," said Kramer, a physicist from Lexington. "I would have been happy with 110 to 115 returning alumni. We have 181 registered, and with guests we have 360 people." He described the class as "middle-of-the-road politically, economically and intellectually."
According to the 226 members responding to the class survey, the most popular major was mechanical engineering, followed by business and engineering administration, chemical engineering, physics, electrical engineering, civil engineering and metallurgy. One of their classmates, Burton Richter, won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1976 along with Samuel C.C. Ting, professor of physics. Burton, who earned the Ph.D. in 1956, is a professor of physics at Stanford.
Three classmates listed honorary degrees and 166 served in the military (34 of those before graduation), most in the Korean War.
According to Kramer, people traveled from the corners of the world for the six-day reunion, which included a three-day trip to Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine. "After we get to Maine, we're gonna let our hair down and be casual," he said.
The only woman class member to attend the reunion, Patricia Wolfe Wooten, came just for the procession. Her niece, Cindy Ferguson, drove her from Wolfeboro, N.H., so that Wooten could march into Killian Court. "She's talked about this for years," said Ferguson.
Wooten studied electrical engineering with a specialization in motors and power. The Pennsylvania native said she attended MIT because a girlfriend in high school suggested it. "I'd never even heard of it; I was going to be a doctor. But she gave me the idea, so I came. And [my girlfriend] went to Radcliffe instead," Wooten said with a laugh, adding that going to class with all men was a lot of fun. "Whoopee! My friend missed it. Nobody gets to do it anymore, but it was great."
"There were five [women] to begin with, maybe six. But they all disappeared except Germaine and I," she said, referring to classmate Germaine Bousquet, a physics major now living in France. Wooten worked on radar applications until 1973.
Frank Fairbanks, a mechanical engineer who lives near Pittsburgh, marched in the procession carrying a small oxygen tank he needs to breathe. This was his first reunion.
"Before, I was single. And these events aren't much fun for single people. Then I was married and had children and it was hard to get away. Then I was divorced for 10 years. And I remarried last year," he said, adding that his wife was here with him. Fairbanks was diagnosed five years ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. "It's not from smoking. I was never a smoker," he said.
The class members showed remarkable fortitude as they waited under a canopy near Hayden Library for a couple of hours, then donned rain gear and headed down Memorial Drive to lead the procession. During the speeches, they sat in Killian Court in the downpour, smiling and laughing. Many of their spouses hovered alongside the seating section taking photos and demanding poses. One woman insisted her husband remove his hood for a photo. "That looks great," she said as he stood in the rain and waved at the camera.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 2002.