Dramatic readings of alumni letters reveal dynamic social change

Clara Bartlett

Ever read something you weren’t supposed to––a private note, a journal entry, an unread text blinking on a friend’s phone? Well, this Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28, three Whitman alumni invite current Whitman students to hear (guilt free!) numerous private letters written by Whitman students from the classes of 1965 through 1972.

With the help of Associate Director of Alumni Relations Nancy Mitchell and Garrett Professor of Dramatic Art Nancy Simon,  alumnus David Current ’71, alumna Barbara James ’71 and alumnus Cleve Larson ’71 have teamed up with the drama department to bring the letters to life.

Larson explained the Whitman Letter Project in more detail via email.

“The main idea of the event came from alum discussion at a previous reunion, where we wondered aloud if there were letters written by students and or their families still available which described our lives at Whitman during the 1960s and early 1970s.”

“Thanks to the generous contributions of our fellow Whitman alums, we’ve had the privilege of assembling and bringing to light a fascinating piece of history and student life, in our own younger voices, from a time of great social change,” said James.

While some alumni sent a single paragraph, other letters number as much as nine pages in length. In total, the Whitman Letter Project received from 80 to 100 different pieces.

The current Whitman students to perform the letters include junior Jeremy Howell, sophomores Nicky Khor, Samuel Halgren and Russell Sperberg, and first-years Evelyn Levine, Caroline Rensel and Tory Davidson.

Levine elaborated on her involvement with the project.

“Regardless of the differences in time, I relate to the students and––this may sound a bit corny––get the feeling that there is a real Whitman spirit, and that I’m privileged to be a part of that community,” said Levine.

Khor confirmed this feeling of connection.

“I was moved by the thoughts and sentiments behind those letters,” said Khor. “I have shared many of them myself.”

Most unique about the letters is the message they convey in the context of history.

“Whitman College, from post-World War II, 1950 to 1965, was very much a traditional campus, with defined boundaries of social decorum, a Greek system of  fraternities and sororities and an administration/faculty who accepted the basic standards of academic excellence as per the President and the overseers/trustees,” said Larson. “After 1965, the Whitman campus began to change on many fronts. With a fresh outlook on student rights and student activism, the reality of the US/Vietnam war, and as American society evolved, so did Whitman. The period of 1966-1972 was a magical time for new ideas and new actions.”

The main reading will be held on Saturday, April 28, from 9:15 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in Kimball Auditorium, preceded by a “lunch box” performance on Friday, April 27, at noon in the Freimann Studio Theatre.