Look to Your Left; Look to Your Right

148

Author: Fallon Christian

The threat of wedding bells has haunted many generations of Occidental students. Incoming first-years throughout the College’s history learn about what is often called “The Oxy Statistic”-the rumor that a significant percentage of Oxy students tend to marry other Oxy students. The estimate is usually set at more than 50 percent, causing current Oxy couples to vehemently deny that it will ever happen to them.

Maybe they shouldn’t be so worried. “Many alumni have had the same perception, that the number of alumni couples seems unusually high,” Director of Communications Jim Tranquada said. “I’ve seen a number of different percentages cited, but none of them can be traced back to a firm source.”

Tranquada said that the College doesn’t keep track of the number of alumni couples. But a few years ago, the Communications Office investigated and estimated that the number is more like 10 percent. “Any other, larger number seems to fall under the category of ‘urban legend,'” he said.

Nonetheless, it is eerily easy to find alumni couples. And graduates from all different periods of time are quick to recall others.

Trustee Allen and wife Clara Gresham ’53, for whom Gresham Dining Room is named, attended Oxy in what Allen, a lawyer, called a “vastly different atmosphere.”

“The last group of veterans from WWII were coming back to college paid for by the G.I. Bill,” Clara said. She said there was optimism about the United Nations and the prospects of world peace.

“We were born during the Depression,” Clara said. “There was no push for extravagance.”

Students had to pass a swim test to graduate from Oxy then, and there were separate dorms for men and women. On Wednesday nights there were dances on Branca Patio.

They met as first-years while sitting in the same row in French class.

They were pinned, in which a fraternity member lets his main squeeze wear his fraternity pin, around junior year. He proposed in the fall of their senior year at an Oxy-related formal at a country club. They married a year and a half later in 1954 in her hometown, with Oxy’s Chaplain presiding over the ceremony.

They said that “plenty” of their friends and Occidental classmates married, but that they hadn’t heard the term “Oxy Statistic.” “Many no doubt hoped to marry an Oxy person,” Clara said. At that time, couples did not marry on campus; Herrick Chapel was not built yet. Attending these weddings, she said, “solidified our friendships into the years since graduation . . . [it] also probably reinforced our ties to the College.”

John and Trustee Virginia “Ginny” Cushman ’55 were two years behind the Greshams. Ginny recalls about 18 weddings occurring the year she graduated. She said a common predicament was, “When are you getting married? Oh, I guess I’ll have to wait until the next week.”

Cushman said that college then was viewed as a place where “you would perhaps find your mate.”

At that time, the draft was in full swing. “The president of the student body, who was a senior, and premed, got drafted the last semester of his senior year,” Cushman said. “His draft board would not let him off.” However, he met his future wife when he came back.

Cushman attributes the high number of marriages not only to the standards of the time, but to the closeness of the Oxy community. “There was a lot of class identity,” she said.

The dating system, Cushman said, was also different. “We went out with lots of different people,” she said. “We did things . . . with one person in the afternoon and one in the evening . . . We didn’t have computers to email. You had to talk in person.” There was only one phone in each residence hall corridor.

The Cushmans were both active in Greek life. Their sophomore year, she invited him to the Alpha House Party, after which they began dating. At the end of their junior year, they got pinned-which Cushman described as an engagement to be engaged-and senior year, engaged. They married before graduation.

Women’s careers were limited at the time, Cushman said, so she and most of her classmates became teachers until they had children. “In today’s world, I probably would have become a lawyer,” she said.

At the time, a family could live on one salary. Their first was $300 a month, which was enough.

Almost all of her friends and classmates were married within three years of graduating.

Cushman said that it isn’t surprising that many meet their future partner in college. “[It is] a very crucial time in your life when you solidify your basic values system.”

“We love this institution, and that’s been something we’ve had in common,” she said. The Cushman Board Room is named after the couple. They also share a love for travel. Last year, the Cushmans followed the Iditarod Sled Dog race in Alaska. “With the mushers at the checkpoints,” she said.

Is the Oxy statistic real? “Certainly our experience is that way,” Cushman said.

Doug and Vicki Carlsen ’72 didn’t meet until 30 years after they graduated, at a class reunion.

Somehow, they shared Econ 101, choir, a favorite restaurant and both participated in Greek life, but never interacted.

Doug described Oxy’s campus at the time they attended as “very energetic.” The Vietnam War was raging, and there were constant demonstrations on campus. Every spring, students got time off because of something having to do with the war. “It was intense on campus politically,” Carlsen said.

It was also a time when the rumored Oxy statistic’s percentage was high. “The first week we were told 2/3 of us would marry each other. It kind of grossed us out.”

Doug could think of 8 other married alumni couples off the top of his head, but said that most of them didn’t marry immediately after graduation. At the ten year reunion, when they would have been 32 years old, only about half of the people in attendance were married. “Oxy people tend to get married late,” he said, which is a change from the Greshams’ and Cushmans’ time at Oxy.

Doug said he can’t figure out why he and his wife didn’t meet at the College.

“I had the chicks scoped,” he said.

Doug, a retired dentist, was the last person to arrive at the reunion and almost missed her again when he grabbed the empty chair next to her and dragged it away, intending to sit somewhere else. Vicki, now Dean of the College of Arts and Science at Cal State San Marcos, informed him that she had showered that day. They were married on Christmas in 2003.

Doug believes part of it was fate. “For some reason, we weren’t meant [to be together until now].”

Jason Reade ’98 and Eddie Jauregui ’01 held their commitment ceremony March 17, just over two weeks ago.

The couple met on campus, which is where they married.

Upon hearing the phrase “Oxy Statistic,” Reade said with recognition, “The legend.” He said he didn’t know whether the percentage of Oxy’s alumni marriages was higher than at other colleges, but that Oxy’s small size might contribute to it. Reade also has friends who are couples that met at Oxy.

They are currently third years in law school, Reade at Brooklyn Law and Jauregui at Columbia. They’ve been together for about 5 years, and became engaged a year ago.

“We both had such a great experience at Occidental and such fond memories from our years there,” Reade said about their decision to hold the ceremony at the College. “It’s such a beautiful campus.”

The reception was held inside Gresham, and out of the 100 guests, 21 were Oxy alumni.

“It was just perfect,” Reade said. “Everything we could have imagined.”

Associate Vice President for Hospitality Services Amy Munoz said 25-30 weddings occur on Oxy’s campus per year.

“I would say that probably about 60-75 percent
of people who get married have some connection to the College,” she said. On-campus ceremonies where at least one person is an alum, Munoz said, accounts for approximately 40-50 percent.

“I don’t know if it’s more than any other college, but certainly for our business, it’s a high proportion,” she said.

Alumni get a better deal on the ceremony at Herrick Chapel. Couples spend 7-10 thousand dollars on an Oxy wedding, Munoz said, which doesn’t include the dress, flowers or decorations.

Munoz has been at the College for 22 years. She said she would guess that the Oxy statistic is a reality.

“I would guess that we’re just that close-knit of a community.”

This article has been archived, for more requests please contact us via the support system.