This guest post is by Dr Helen Bettinson (History 1982) Development Director.

The last weekend in September is always a special one at Fitzwilliam. This is when members gather for the Reunion of the Fitzwilliam Society, the society consisting of all current and past students of Fitzwilliam, Fellows and friends. The huge popularity of the event makes for a logistical challenge in terms of catering, accommodation and other services, but one which our staff rise to magnificently, from the gardeners to the housekeepers to the cooks, waiters and porters.

After a day spent at lectures, concerts, on the river, on the playing field at Oxford Road, or simply enjoying a wander around the city, alumni and their guests gather together for the culmination of the weekend’s itinerary: the Saturday Dinner. This year the Master drew attention to the extraordinary age-range of Fitzwilliam members packed into Lasdun’s unique dining hall: From current students to those who had arrived at Fitzwilliam House just after the War. Professor Alan Shakespeare, Geoffrey Cole and Dennis Doyle (who matriculated in 1945, 1946 and 1947 respectively) are loyal attendees whose connection to Fitzwilliam stretches back seven decades. For many years Michael Duffett (1952) and his wife Ann have travelled from Australia each September, not only to attend the dinner but so that Michael can row with his friends in the veteran boat – a wonderful example of friendship and stamina. We were delighted, too, to see so many alumni who had matriculated in 2005, 1995, 1975, 1985 and 1955 (the 1965s had their own Golden Reunion in July).

Next week the latest cohort of young men and women will arrive at the College, full of excitement and trepidation, unsure of what lies ahead. Very few will be familiar with Fitzwilliam’s unique history or aware that the thriving community that awaits them stretches back/forward for many decades. It’s my job to break the good news. Just before they go into the Hall for their first formal Fitzwilliam meal, Matriculation Dinner, nervously attired in their new gowns, they will hear a lecture from me on the College’s history. I keep it short, but it’s important that our freshers understand what makes Fitzwilliam what it is, what we are. The senior men who sat in the hall on Saturday night came from a different world, one devastated by war and dislocation. Fitzwilliam was still, technically, a department of the University, with almost no accommodation of its own. The College that our freshers will come to next week would have been unimaginable to their predecessors of 70 years ago. The extraordinary thing, so evident this weekend, is that the esprit de corps forged by the men of Fitzwilliam House, without the advantages of a spacious and welcoming site, persists to this day. Fitz is now a large, successful, ‘mainstream’ college on a beautiful campus. The September Reunion (the Fitzwilliam Society’s 81st) is important not only because it enables men from Fitzwilliam House, who joined in the 1940s and 1950s, to participate in the College as it is today, but also because it means today’s students and recent graduates can look back and see where the College has come from.

I always begin my lecture on Fitzwilliam’s history with my own matriculation photo. As each year passes this looks increasingly like an ancient historical document. But my point is that in the 33 years since it was taken I have remained close to my Fitz friends (and I’m still married to one of them). Fitzwilliam is about intellectual challenge and opportunity, about gaining skills and insight, but it is also about making life-long friendships – a fact that at the age of 18 or 19 is little more than a nice idea, but to the men and women in the dining hall on Saturday night, is priceless.

Dr Helen Bettinson

About Dr Helen Bettinson

Helen read History at Fitzwilliam (1982) and, after a career in television production, rejoined the College in April 2010. Following the retirement of Dr Iain Reid, she became Development Director in October 2011.

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