By Pam Swift (Crown ’71)

…with thanks to Jim Crane, Lisa Rose, and Su Nerton for setting the record straight.

Our first Crown alumni gatherings were strictly homemade. In our twenties, with many of us living on ramen in graduate school, we hid from the UCSC Development Department’s Mr. Green Jacket and proudly did it ourselves.

Silly Mr. Green Jacket, don’t you know none of us have any money?

I fondly recall cleaning cartons of fruit alongside Diane Suechika for our Classic Dipped Strawberries (berries, sour cream, brown sugar). Nowadays, a third of our diners would object to the sugar, a third turn away from the lactose, and a third would protest strawberries on behalf of undocumented labor. Oh, to be young and unwoke.

But as we aged and acquired homes, our gatherings were more elaborate and less spontaneous. And, as I recall, we had a much wider cast of characters. In fact, I acquired a character of my own: my late husband Bob Ludwig.

Bob and I met cute in 1984. I was helping Sig Puknat, Crown Provost, host a gathering for graduating Crownies, and Bob, a Fellow of Crown, had crashed the party looking for free food. At the provost’s house, I would circle around carrying canapes and casually asking some upper class person the Kindergarten teacher’s question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” When I came to Bob with my stock question, he stopped me and said that he recognized my voice. Then he started singing a song about emotive rocks from my local kids’ public radio show. Turns out, he played my Saturday morning program in his lab. Perfect. Anyone that could stand quirky children’s music could probably stand me.

So, Bob and I got married, and Harry Noller’s jazz band played at our wedding reception.  We built an ultramodern house in the faculty ghetto on Dickens Way. With a big deck overlooking that great Monterey Bay view, our house was perfect for parties- especially because every other location on campus had restrictions on alcohol.

Enter Su Nerton, Lisa Rose, Jim Crane, Jim Lapsley, and Dr. Henry Chu.  Could Bob and I host a gathering dubbed “Maxwell House and Friends” at our home in 2002?  Nothing too big…. Just maybe 50 people, on rented tables in our backyard? Sure, sounds like fun. But then the evening arrived, and the Crownies just kept coming. We lined our living room floor with pillows. Our house resembled Max Rafferty’s dream come true.

I must stop here and let you know that our family’s favorite topic of argument conversation at the time was “the ideal college education.” Bob, on the tenure track in the Biology department, felt a keen pressure to bow to the first two commandments of the Almighty Regents, that is, “thou shalt publish or perish” and “thou shalt fill the seats of Nat Sci 1 with the butts of grade-driven Bio majors.” I, on the other hand, made a passionate defense of the personalized education I received at UCSC, which set me up so well for a life of helping special kids. At Crown, I took every independent study and every field study the Academic Senate would allow. I, and my fellow Crownies, helped suggest and develop College-based seminars such as “Science through Fiction” (sounds like Fox News, doesn’t it?) I sat in an Anthro professor’s office with five other undergrads every Wednesday discussing “Culture-based, non-verbal communication”.  Our final consisted of hanging our laundry out of our very-patient professor’s office window.  Later, I even gave my special ed students narrative evaluations instead of grades. 

Our dinner-time family debates went on and on. Bob was an advisor for the pre-med crowd and knew how much 40-pages of narrative evaluations turned off admissions officers across the country. I, on the other hand, saw how that same ungraded system helped students have the courage to follow their bliss. It could help a Chem major end up writing award-winning Children’s Literature.  It could push a nationally acclaimed visual artist to get a second degree in Environmental Studies. But our kind of education costs money, Bob would say. What about the thousands of California high school students who want, nay deserve, a public college experience? Why should UCSC be reserved for just a lucky few? True, I would say, but why put a space between professors and students, why can’t we have joint discussions, or, say, sit down together for a casual dinner. You can actually go to college right now and never talk face to face with a professor… or the other students. They send you your diploma in the mail.

We got our chance to hear many other voices on this subject at the Gatherings on Dickens Way.

The first catered dinner was backed by Henry Chu (thanks Henry!). Unfortunately, we ran out of food and so had to pull some of Bob’s Duck Confit out of the freezer (I know, it’s a long way from ramen, huh?).   Jim Lapsley made a hearty toast with his own vintage, and people loved it so much that they began leaning on the pillows and chatting in the living room. 

Jim Crane had made the suggestion months before that we go around the room and give everyone a few minutes to speak.  So, each of us spoke, in turn, about our lives since graduating… and other topics. Bob, I, and our kids sat on our slate stairs in rapt attention. Simply put, Bob heard the theoretical become actual.  Crownies talked about how a casual chat in the Fireside Lounge could be the spark for a very individualized career in building municipal governments or starting a rural law practice or setting up a program to help math teachers. We Crownies were always changing, always growing. One career sparked another, and then maybe, another. It was obvious that our Crown education helped us see the possibilities where another traditional, less personal, education might have kept us in lockstep. Because of our self-motivation and our self-determination, we were able to leap ahead of a grade-driven education in a way that truly facilitated our contributions to society… and our personal fulfillment. 

Later gatherings at our house, in 2006 and in 2011, incorporating Crownies from all of the Crown houses and several graduating classes, were equally reinforcing. Reidun Sogneas and Judy Walsh joined the ever-enlarging group to make these Gatherings happen. Our talks became more personal: we spoke about our families and their impact on our lives, new roles of caregiving for elders, or dealing with illness and disability. It was still delightful to see everyone, although the later visits were somewhat clouded by the growing list of In Memoriam. It made our time together more precious.

Throughout the many gatherings at our house, Bob remained deeply impressed. Sure, he had met my closest friends from my time at UCSC, and he was fond of them all…or most of them! And sure, he had graduated from Yale and MIT and spent time in much of the Ivy League. But Bob had never heard anything like the experiences of our first graduating classes. As a professor, Bob was (exhaustingly) used to fielding pleas from undergrads about changing their grades to one that they “so richly deserve.” They really said that. With us, the gradeless few, it was different. Bob heard how we Crownies have given back… and hope to continue to give back in the future. The trappings of success didn’t matter much to us, the actions from the head and heart did. 

I can’t say that this ultimately changed Bob’s point of view on our ongoing debate. The economic and societal changes in California were rapidly making our kind of shared Crown experience an artifact of the past. No more Fireside lounge chats, not many independent studies or small seminars, no talk of “interdisciplinary” classes. No more individualized education that sets students up to be life-long learners and active, nay, passionate, participants. 

We can’t go home again.

But then, maybe we can. I’m heartened by the work of Lisa, Sue, and others in helping Provost Camps create a modern-day version of some of our Crown experiences through the Crown Provost Advisory Committee. One way we may be able to enrich our (collective) grandchildren’s education is by providing mentoring and perhaps career guidance to curious students, via Zoom or other means. We can strengthen our beloved Crown through visits, talks, and yes, donations.  This is not a Green Jacket appeal for money, but rather, an appeal for what we all know is even more valuable: your dedicated time, your wisdom, and yes, your love for the next half-century of Crown.

Let it begin with us, as it has before.