“Um, Mr. DeNunzio? We just wanted to introduce ourselves. We’re all on the swim team and um, we just wanted to say thank you for the pool.”
I stared at the four Princeton undergraduates. Then I turned to the man on my right and stared some more. Thank you for the pool???
Over Memorial Day weekend, I went to Princeton University to attend my grandfather’s 60th college reunion. [I know, it’s adorable.] I was situated between my grandfather and Mr. DeNunzio on a makeshift stage, waiting for the alumni parade (the P-Rade) when the swim team approached us.
I haven’t been in the pool-shopping business as of late, but can imagine how many zeros are involved in a gift of that size. I had no idea the man who I’d been shooting the shit with for the past twenty minutes was the same man who wrote the check.
To me, he was just one more friend of my grandfather’s.
And here is how my Grandfather has managed to make life-long friends with people he met sixty years ago.
Step One: Continue to meet people and develop relationships from a certain time in your life, even after that time has ended.
I love the crap out of my grandfather. It was the highlight of my spring to be his date for the weekend, meeting people he’s known for—literally—over half a century. I cannot count how many times he recited the phrase, “And may I present my granddaughter,” to someone who replied with, “You have a great grandfather.”
He puts in the time and effort.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you,” my grandpa told me, “If I met half these people in undergrad, or at alumni events years later.”
My grandpa loves his alma mater. He’s attended a Princeton-Harvard or Princeton-Yale football game almost every year since he was a student himself. Every five years, he returns to campus to attend a reunion. He’s also played an active role in alumni relations.
I’ve been out of college for five years, and wonder how my network would have expanded if I made a better effort to visit and keep in touch.
Step Two: Understand one of the best parts of life is making friends—and watching where they end up
At one point this weekend, I was sitting at dinner surrounded by my grandfather’s classmates. One fellow alumnus told the story of the first time he booked a hotel with a woman. “You see,” he told me, “It was illegal back then—so I lied about her last name. And no one would have known, except they mailed a note to my dorm addressed to Mr. & Mrs. So-and-so, thanking us for our stay…”
It wasn’t an uncomfortable conversation at all.
“I truly enjoy hearing about what someone is up to, where they’ve moved to, and what their families are doing,” my grandpa told me. “It’s really fun to watch what a person goes through over the course of sixty years.”
Hotel room conversations aside, the man had a point.
It’s so funny to be in your twenties, watching someone run off and get married and start a family. And here you are, remembering holding their hair back as they vomited all over the bathroom stall freshman year.
It made me want to call my college track team, or college roommates. You know, just to reminisce over the loss of bodily fluids.
Step Three: If you want to know people, you better show up.
I’ve met a few of my grandpa’s classmates before. When I didn’t see them this weekend, I asked why they didn’t show up.
“They always say they won’t know anyone,” my grandpa said. “But my response to that is—if you go, you’ll know people.”
Each Wednesday, I go to track practice with my running group (my one extra-curricular activity, if you will). Last week, there was a guy I didn’t recognize running laps. I asked the girls if he belonged to our club.
The response? “Are you kidding me?? That’s Mark! Kara, he’s literally here every week!”
In every organization, you can be as involved as you want. Like everything else, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. I know I could be more involved in my running group. If I showed up to happy hours, post-race celebrations, and Saturday practice; I would probably know more than…40 percent of the guy’s team.
My grandpa has made life-long friends with his former classmates because he has:
- Kept in touch with those he knows
- Continued to meet and develop relationships with those he does not, and
- Played an active role in the organization
He doesn’t have ulterior motive (hell, the man has been retired for twenty-five years. What’s he going to do, ask for a LinkedIn recommendation?) He just genuinely finds happiness in making new friends and watching where those friends end up.
Like I said, now I want to go call my college roommates.