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Nov. 12, 2009

A love beyond the luxury

by Jewel Galbraith, Print Managing Features Editor
ramed by the gleaming walls of Strathmore's reception hall, the scene could have been lifted from an upscale country club: Blair alumni, dressed to the nines in tailored suits and dresses stand in clumps, chatting over drinks and twirling on the dance floor to old hits like "Play That Funky Music" by Wild Cherry. But immersed in conversation with old friends and classmates, the former Blazers hardly seem to notice their elegant surroundings.

Strathmore's lavish music hall was the location for this reunion, a gathering of Blazers from many of Blair's 75 classes. At 6 p.m., over 1,000 Blazer alumni and faculty poured through a glimmering bridge past current Blair cheerleaders into Strathmore's spacious hall. Between two receptions, they moved into the wood-paneled music hall for an induction ceremony honoring the first members of the Blair Alumni Association's Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame inductees were celebrities who had attended Blair, including journalist Carl Bernstein, who led the media's investigation of the Watergate scandal, high school basketball coach Morgan Wootten, member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and actor and commentator Ben Stein, famous for his role in the film "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and his economic commentary. Stein also served as the vivacious master of ceremonies for the evening. Between the famous attendees and glamorous backdrop, the event was an extravagant affair. But despite this flashy atmosphere, the true spirit of the gala laid in the roots of the strong Blair community and sense of school pride that connected the alumni at the event.

As Blazers entered the reception the immediate reaction was one of close connection. Shouts of "I remember you from Eastern!" and "Hey, how are you doing?" rang out across the hall as alumni recognized old faces at every corner.

Pamela Smith, '81, was delighted to reunite with her old friends at the gala, especially after realizing that her fellow alumni still retained the same enthusiasm for their alma mater that she feels almost 30 years after graduation. Seeing her classmates and recognizing their familiar personality quirks reminded Smith of her youth. "It's like home," she said. "You still feel just as young as you were when you were [at Blair], and you can kind of celebrate that with other people."

It was with this feeling of a home in the Blair community that the former Blazers made their way into Strathmore's enormous music hall for the Hall of Fame ceremony and showing of a film depicting the history of Blair, which was entitled "Tradition Never Graduates." Sitting in velvet-covered chairs, the alumni whooped and cheered at pictures of beloved teachers and old hangouts in the video.

Throughout the inductees' acceptance speeches, alumni reacted with a similar zeal, enthusiastically giving standing ovations to their classmates. The speakers were focused not on their own success but on the effusive, welcoming nature of the Blair community. Hall of Fame inductee Chris Sullivan, '66, philanthropist and founder of the Outback Steakhouse Restaurant, remembered Blair for its inclusive student body. "I was never one of the cool kids, but I never felt left out," he said. "Long before I got there, Blair had a culture of people belonging, and there was a sense of family and a sense of caring."

To Smith, the Blair family includes even those Blazers with whom she did not attend school, she said. Mingling with alumni from all graduating classes was a highlight of the gala for her. "I see them and I'm instantly connected to them, and I can say 'Oh, you went to Blair!'" she said.

As the reunion wound to a close, Strathmore officials announced over the loudspeaker that the building would be shutting down, despite the crowds of Blazers still lingering in the hall and paying no attention to the increasingly urgent announcements. Finally shepherded out, the alumni went their separate ways, departing just as many of them did after their graduation from Blair: with acceptance, camaraderie and a reluctance to leave.



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