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Class of 1961 adopts Class of 2011 at annual rally

The Class of 2011 covers the University Center lawn for the rally.

When Paul Smith ’61 and Joe King ’61 attended their first classes at Lehigh in the fall of 1957, Elvis Presley was “The King”, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the Oval Office, and first-class postage stamps sold for three cents.

Needless to say, much has changed over the years.

But one constant remains: Lehigh’s annual First-Year Student/Alumni Rally. The event includes a parade of flag-bearing representatives from every graduating class from the 1930s (Don Walp ’38 of Macungie was this year’s oldest flag-bearer) until the present to welcome Lehigh’s new students.

This year’s rally was held Saturday night on the UC Lawn, and Smith and King represented the Class of ’61 in its “adoption” of the Class of 2011, marking the 61st time that a class from 50 years ago adopted an incoming class.

“This is a great event,” said Matt Montgomery ’08, the president of the senior class. “As freshmen, you have no idea what you’re about to get yourself into. So to see alums still so pumped up about Lehigh so many years after graduation makes you feel like you’ve chosen a great place to go to school.”

Meagan McDonald ’11 admits that she needed some coaxing to attend Lehigh, her mom’s alma mater. “Like most teenagers, I wanted to do my own thing,” she says.

An excellent student, McDonald was accepted at a number of schools and seemed pretty dead-set on attending the U.S. Naval Academy. But before making a final decision, she elected to make kick-the-tires type visits to all the schools she had at least some serious interest in—including Lehigh, the school that her great-grandfather, grandfather, aunt, great-uncle and mom had all attended.

Her visit to South Mountain changed her mind.

“I just felt at home here,” said McDonald. “It’s just a feeling. I couldn’t describe it to people, other than to say that Lehigh’s home to me. There’s something special about this place, a real feeling of community.”

Meagan McDonald ’11 laughs as she dons the dink bestowed upon her by Paul Smith '61, right, and Joe King '61.

This past Saturday night, McDonald, the once-reluctant Lehigh legacy, found herself on the stage at the annual First-Year Student/Alumni Rally. One of 167 legacies in this year’s first-year class, she was the Class of 2011 representative as the Class of 1961 formally “adopted” her class.

Smith, the class president of the Class of ’61, and King, a man who Smith says is so passionate about Lehigh that “his veins are white and his blood is brown,” presented McDonald with the 2011 class flag and with a Lehigh dink, a bucket-style hat that all the 1961ers—a group that included alums from Maine, the Carolinas and even Las Vegas, Nevada—were all sporting at the rally.

Lehigh 6-1-1

The gifts didn’t stop there. Determined to build a true bond between his class and the current first-year students, Smith handed out “Lehigh 6-1-1” bracelets, because he says, “when you put the Classes of ’61 and ’11 together, you share the 1.”

“We’re on a mission to perpetuate the Lehigh tradition,” said Smith. “The Class of ’61 is here for you Class of 2011. We’ll be your mentors, we’ll be your friends, we’ll be your advisors. When you need to reach us, we’ll be on the web at http://www.lu61.com.

“When you sing the alma mater, learn to live that third verse … live to love Lehigh, praise her name and most important, add luster to her glorious fame.”

Also in his speech, Smith recalled his own first-year rally—called a “freshman smoker” because all members of the Class of 1961 were given corn-cob pipes from members of the Class of 1911. During his talk, Smith recalled the words uttered 50 years ago at the rally by then-athletic director Percy Sadler: “Work hard. Be involved. Enjoy your friends at Lehigh, make life-long connections. And beat the hell out of Lafayette every chance you get.”

Sadler’s words drew roars from the first-year students—all wearing “Hawk’s Nest” T-shirts with the motto “We’re So Fly” on the back—at the annual rally, which was held for the first time on the UC Lawn. Whipped into a frenzy by master of ceremonies Scott Wojciechowski, president of the Class of ’09, the first-year students hooted and hollered throughout a program that included speeches by Alumni Director Chris Marshall ’88; Lehigh President Alice P. Gast; Smith ’61; Cheryl Kaplun, president of the Association of Student Alumni (ASA); and Montgomery, president of Class of 2008.

Alumni Director Chris Marshall exhorts the crowd.

In sticking with the theme of linking Lehigh classes from 50 years apart—in this case, the Class of 1961 with the Class of 2011, Marshall pointed out the significance of the number 50.

“In 50 seconds, I’ll be done speaking. In 50 minutes, you’ll be back up on ‘the Hill.’ In 50 hours, you’ll be into your first week of class as a college student. In 50 days, you’ll be taking mid-term exams. In 50 weeks, you’ll have completed your first year at Lehigh. In 50 months, you’ll be graduating from Lehigh.

“In 50 years, you’ll be about 70 years old, and some of you will be back here as members of the Class of 2011 adopting the Class of 2061.”

Chances are that Meagan McDonald ’11 will be one of those returning to campus five decades from now—her dink hat atop her head.

--Bill Doherty

Posted on Monday, August 27, 2007

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