P.C.Pop with Pablo

Flashback to the Eighties – Social Media and a Spontaneous College Reunion

In College Students, Family, Malavenda, Pablo Malavenda, social media, Summer for Renewal, UConn, Uncategorized on August 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Long Live Watson Beach at UConn

U Conn Husky, symbol of might to the foe.
Fight, fight Connecticut, it’s victr’y, Let’s go
Connecticut U Conn Husky, victr’y again for the White and Blue
So go, go, go Connecticut, Connecticut U. Fight!
C-O-N-N-E-C-T-I C-U-T. Connecticut,
Connecticut Husky,
Connecticut Husky, Connecticut C-O-N-N-U. Fight! (repeat)

{NOTE: In recent times, the original word “Hi!” has been replaced with “Fight!”}


In preparation for a visit home to Connecticut prior to leaving Indiana I took the first step in what became a viral invitation to a spontaneous UConn Watson Beach alumni reunion thanks to Social Media. The result was a serendipitously perfect day.

Initially I reached out to just three UConn Watson Beach alums with whom I still engage on Facebook. Once we were able to nail down a date for a mini-reunion, the three of us invited other UConn Watson Beach alums to join us through Facebook. Everyone was encouraged to spread the word, and it became viral in a tiny way. After a week or so, we compared lists and identified individuals who had not been contacted yet. We pooled our resources and used ever means necessary to track people down. LinkedIn became another powerful means to locate and connect because of their internal messaging system as well as the availability of email addresses.  More and more, individuals are hiding their email addresses on Facebook and other social media sites but since LinkedIn is about professional networking, we found a few more missing alums through there.

Now we had to plan our day. It became apparent that many wanted to see the Storrs campus — so, our meeting place would be the UConn campus. One fellow alum who lives about 5 miles from campus then offered her home for a pool party following a morning visit to our old stomping grounds.  Since I not only graduated from UConn twice (almost thrice) and worked there for over 10 years, I contacted a friend/alumna/colleague to see if we could actually get in to see our beloved Watson. This friend/alumna/colleague coincidentally was our “staff resident” back when we were students and still works at UConn in residential life. During my time at UConn she became a great colleague and was a next-door neighbor — and continues to be a Facebook friend and conference buddy. She readily agreed to meet us at Watson on that Saturday morning and let us in to see our college home. Things were really coming together.

I attended the UConn Hartford Campus for two years prior to “branchfering” to the main campus and moving into Watson Hall in the Fall of 1981. Watson Hall was my home from Fall 1981 through Spring 1984. Most of my close friends from the UConn Hartford campus as well as other Hartford “branchfers” were also residents of the third floor of Watson. When I arrived within a week of moving in the president of the Watson Hall council resigned. I ran for the mid-term position and won.  I was the president for the next three years and worked with a dedicated and talented team to resurrect the image and programming of our beloved Watson Hall. For a variety of reasons, we called our front lawn “Watson Beach.” So when we became one of the best councils on campus — we officially changed our constitution to reflect our new image and new name — the Watson Beach Council.  This was the beginning of creating one of those special affinity groups within the UConn alumni community; one that has a very strong bond with hundreds of UConn alums.

The summer of 2012 has been designated (by me) as My Summer for Renewal. Why? Because last summer I made a mistake — I put work ahead of family and friends. That was wrong and I promised my family, friends…and myself, that my priorities would change in 2012. My priorities are once again focused on making sure that I am physically and psychologically healthy; so that I am able to build and maintain positive relationships with my family and friends. When planning our summer, we made sure that we were able to take at least two weeks off for a trip to Connecticut so we may reconnect with as many friends and family as possible.  {NOTE: We accomplished a lot in two weeks but we still did not connect with everyone and had to make some tough decisions. For instance we met with UConn college friends but could not possible connect with former colleauges at UConn. Next time — for sure!} The UConn Watson Beach Reunion was a priority for the 2012 Summer for Renewal.

The morning of this Saturday reunion arrived and my wife, kids and I started our journey to Storrs, Connecticut, home of the UConn Huskies. Our reminiscing started as soon as we hit the road because the route we traveled was one we did hundreds of times in the past. My wife and I traveled this road for over a decade each Sunday to my family homestead for Sunday dinner. This trip was also special because we were sharing our excitement, pride, and stories with our two children who have grown up loving UConn. The excitement was building and our anticipation grew. We arrived on campus early and good thing because the first change we encountered from the “old days” was the new road sytem on campus — roads eliminated in the center of campus and more one-way streets. We finally found our way around campus to our designated meeting spot — Watson Hall. We parked our car and the magic began. Our posse of Watson Beach alums weren’t the only ones on campus but we found each other quickly — emerging from every parking lot and loading dock in the vacinity. It was as if we never left campus — as if it were once again the fall of 1982. After a flurry of hugs and kisses, we picked up right where we left off. We were so happy, so comfortable, so loud and so much in love — with UConn, with Watson (Hall) Beach, with each other. Some I had seen as recently as January 2011 but others I had not seen for 20-30 years.

Soon our former staff resident arrived with the keys to Watson Hall and our day began officially. It did take a while to get everyone’s attention and to move us all into the building though. When we approached the building as a group, our rowdy group of friends were a bit quieter, more focused and more serious. It has been so long for all of us — but everything came back — immediately. Watson Hall has not changed much since the mid-80’s. This probably frustrates the current residential life staff at UConn but we were thrilled. And like a parent waiting for their kids to get home from a long night out — Elmer Watson (the portrait, that is) was waiting for us in the main lobby with the same warm eyes and loving smile making us feel welcome and safe. I was afraid that the portrait of Elmer Watson, fellow alumnus and namesake of our college home, would be gone; but Elmer was still there covered in protective fiberglass with scratches that I would put money on were there when we were there back in the ’80’s. The old place looked great. New furniture, new carpet but it felt the same — we were home. We all did laps around the lounge reliving all of the many happy and crazy memories of our college days. And yes — alcohol was involved. Back then, the drinking age in Connecticut was 18 years old and kegs were allowed  at residence hall council lounge parties.  Thanks to President Reagan (I say bitterly), the drinking age rose to 21 in 1984 — so, these memories are truly unique and in contrast with today’s residential life experience at UConn. We survived. No, we have thrived.

Our once motley crew now includes nothing short of great success in raising families, developing their careers and impacting a number of different communities. Our cohort includes a wide variety of professionals — engineers, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, college deans, pharmacists, educators, and marketing executives. We traveled from Indiana and others from Manhattan, Boston, and every corner of Connecticut. But on this day nothing matters except that we all bleed Blue and White. We even burst into the UConn Fight Song once or twice throughout the day. We all love UConn; we all love Watson Beach; and we all fondly remember our college experience. UConn gave us opportunities to grow up, to develop strong relationships, to dream, to be leaders and to serve each other and our communities. UConn brought us together, and we remain friends for life.

Our plan was to see the campus and go to the “pool party” around noon. After exploring Watson Beach, sharing stories, and taking a lot of pictures we moved on — reluctantly but excited to see our campus.  We could have spent the entire day at Watson but we had to stay on schedule; so, we set off, on foot, of course.  Just the walk from Watson to the center of campus brought back many memories but so much of the campus has changed that it was difficult to absorb it all. Additionally, there was construction in and around over three major buildings in our short 2-3 block walk. Our “must-see” list included Gampel Pavilion, the Memorial Football Stadium, the Student Union, WHUS Radio Studios, the UConn Coop (bookstore) and the Dairy Bar. The UConn Coop is brand new and sits on what was once a parking lot. The Memorial Football Stadium has recently been demolished because since they became a division one team they have been playing at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The grassy field known back in our day as the “Grad Field” we crossed many times a day as students is the new location of the Business School.

Even the Student Union is different.  The front facade hasn’t changed since 1952 but the back has been expanded and is unrecognizable. I just had to see the radio station and the Doug Bernstein Game Room. Doug lived in Watson, on my floor, and is a Watson Beach alumnus. Unfortunately Doug was not able to join us on this day but some of us couldn’t resist going to see the Student Union game room named in his honor.  Doug has done well enough that he has been able to give back and one of his gifts was this game room. To our surprise the plaque included a letter in which he is found guilty of taking a Space Invaders Machine from the Watson Hall Rec Room. The letter was signed by Lorraine Gervais our head resident.  Doug “borrowed” the full size video game machine because he needed it to host a tournament in his room on the 3rd floor of Watson. Needless to say, we remember that tournament as if it were yesterday (and not 31 years ago) and remember how much Doug enjoyed torturing Lorraine. Lorraine was a “by the book” residence hall staff member, and of course, she charged him, held a formal hearing, found him guilty and sanctioned him. Ah, the memories. Also on our visit to the Student Union is the WHUS Radio studio. WHUS is where I had a weekly radio morning show for close to eight years but it is now in a brand new location in the newly renovated part of the Student Union. I am happy that my alma mater is growing but I miss the old Student Union, I miss my old WHUS studio, and I miss all of the green space between the Union and Watson Hall.

Lucky for us, Gampel Pavilion was open that morning with kids and families registering for UConn annual summer soccer camp. Although Gampel was not around when we were students most of us have been to games and events there since. It brought back lots of great memories of some high energy basketball games, Homecoming events, concerts, and March Madness pep-rallies. While working at UConn in the 90’s, I rarely missed a home game and often sat (or should I say stood) in the student section — and was one of the behind the scenes coordinators of most of the concerts and special events including the Indigo Girls, Spin Doctors, Leaders of the New School (featuring Busta Rhymes), Bob Dylan, Public Enemy, and Anthrax (to name a few). The difference is that UConn has been able to hang quite a few more championship banners since then. This of course make us even prouder alums.

Like many alums, one of the highlights of our visit was the campus bookstore — the UConn Coop. The energy level of our group increased tremendously as we rushed through an entire store with endless items celebrating and honoring our beloved alma mater — and some textbooks. We all stocked up on our UConn gear as if it was an end of the world moving sale. For us out of state UConn alums, it is exciting not only to browse the UConn Coop but also to see UConn stuff everywhere in the entire state including all over every shopping mall, in grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and even in discount stores like Old Navy. We all had UConn fever and were loving it. We finished our tour of campus in our own time. We took a few last pictures with the Husky Dog statue and we wound down our visit to campus and moseyed over to our cars.

Next on the agenda was the Watson Beach Alumni Pool Party. The party was such a welcome retreat from campus because the focus was now on us and our conversations. We were once again loud — laughing and sharing. There was no tension, no drama, no need to pretend — we were transformed back in time and we had a lot of catching up to do. The food was simple but fabulous; the pool was inviting and refreshing; and there were plenty of spaces to visit and talk.  They even had a cabana with a TV to get updates on the Yankee game. At one point we looked over and noticed that our kids had found each other and we were hitting it off even though they had only met that morning. One friend brought her Watson Beach T-shirt to show off and share; and yet another brought a stack of photo albums which were a big hit especially with the kids — as you can imagine. No one wanted the day to end, but all wonderful celebrations must. One of our friends brought a tradition from her home to our reunion. She walked everyone to their cars as they needed to leave and waved farewell to them and didn’t stop until they were completely out of sight. A few of us joined her for this touching ritual.

We finally departed around 3:45 p.m. to meet with some family in this part of the state. For the record we did double back to campus after our family visit to get UConn’s own ice cream at the UConn Dairy Bar. And yes, even the Dairy Bar has been renovated; and yes, I miss the old Dairy Bar with its old fashion, horseshoe shaped counter. But the ice cream has not changed — and it is to die for — Huskies Supreme for me! And like a perfect ice cream sundae — this was the cherry on top.

And to think, without Facebook, Email, LinkedIn, Google it wouldn’t have happened. It was spontaneous and a bit viral. It was in many ways serendipitous. It certainly was a perfect “Summer for Renewal” event. We were reassured by the friends with whom we don’t keep in touch that we’re still important to each other; and we were blessed to see in person those with whom we do connect with through Facebook and bi-annual visits.  You learn a lot from exchanging Christmas/Hannukah cards each winter but nothing can compare to the richness and deep connections that were made at this simple reunion.  The UConn Watson Beach Reunion was filled with hugs and laughter — and we created a whole bunch of NEW memories — and shared promises to “do this again” soon. And forever the words of our Alma Mater ring true — Old Connecticut – When times, shall have severed us far, and the years their changes bring, the thought of the college we love in our memories will cling. For friendships that ever remain.


Old Connecticut
Once more, as we gather today,
To sing our Alma Mater’s praise,
And join in the fellowship strong,
Which inspires our college days.
We’re backing our teams in the strife
Cheering them to victory!
And Pledge anew to old Connecticut,
Our steadfast spirit of loyalty.
(Chorus) Connecticut, Connecticut,
Thy sons and daughters true
Unite to honor thy name,
Our fairest White and Blue.
When times, shall have severed us far,
and the years their changes bring,
the thought of the college we love
in our memories will cling.
For friendships that ever remain,
and association’s dear,
We’ll raise a song, to
old Connecticut, and join our voices in our long cheer


This PC Pop Blog post is a part of a series called the Summer for Renewal. Read the other Summer for Renewal posts too.  They are as follows:

 


Read more stories about growing up in my family and our traditions, check out these PC Pop posts:


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  1. it was a great trip! triple love UConn!!

  2. I love it! While I did not attend UConn, I can certainly relate! I have and will always have a deep bond with my alma mater. I remember those days as if they were yesterday. The friendships forged have withstood the test of times. Thank you for allowing me to live vicariously through you!

    • Thanks, Steve. That was my hope — that anyone who experienced campus life could relate to my very personal story. I hope you have the chance to bring back the ole gang too. It’s worth it.

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