New buildings go up, faculty members retire, generations of students come and go, but some things never change: the charm and enchantment of the Cistern Yard, the striking stateliness of Randolph Hall and, of course, the College’s curious knack for throwing a good party.
A Charleston Affair – the College’s annual gala celebrating seniors and alumni – combines these three old stalwarts for a grand way to welcome the graduating class to the College’s Alumni Association. A tradition dating back to 1900, the celebration now draws some 7,000 guests to the Cistern Yard for a night of fun, food, spirits and dancing with Randolph Hall as their dramatic backdrop.
Although the event – with its elegant décor and festive lights – is a far cry from its early days of sit-down dinners with only a handful of alumni and faculty, all of them men, the alumni reception has always been a highly anticipated event. At least as long as Tony Meyer ’49 has been around.
“It was something you looked forward to as a big deal, because it was really the first time you could party with the faculty,” he says, noting that, in his day, only two things were served at the alumni reception: Manhattans and martinis. “The alumni reception became famous for the drinks they served. They had these big bowls, and they would put a block of ice of 10 lbs. or so in the bowl and just pour the Manhattan in there, so it was almost pure whiskey you were drinking. And there was no AC, it was hot, and those Manhattans and martinis were the coldest things you could find.”
Of course, when the alumni reception was finally held in an air-conditioned venue – the Charleston Rifle Club – for the first time in 1966, the popularity of cold drinks didn’t change. The reception did evolve, however, moving to various venues and taking on different atmospheres according to the times.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the alumni reception found its permanent home in the Cistern Yard. Still, it had somehow lost its draw, and the number of guests was getting smaller and smaller. And, when only 300 people attended the reception in 2005, it was clear something had to be done. The College had lost its knack.
Enter A Charleston Affair. With its new and fresh energy, the revved-up party drew thousands of people to the Cistern Yard its first year and is so big today that it had to be extended over two nights. Now quite the, ahem, affair, the celebration has become the most anticipated event on campus, prompting the hunt for the perfect dress and the assessment of last year’s suit.
As Meyer says, “It’s come a long way, baby!”