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The Plastic Age

The next morning Hugh's mother and father arrived in the automobile. He was to
drive them back to Merrytown the day after commencement. At last he stood in
the doorway of the Nu Delta house and welcomed his father, but he had
forgotten all about that youthful dream. He was merely aware that he was
enormously glad to see the "folks" and that his father seemed to be withering into
an old man.
As the under-classmen departed, the alumni began to arrive. The "five year"
classes dressed in extraordinary outfits—Indians, Turks, and men in prison garb
roamed the campus. There were youngsters just a year out of college, still
looking like undergraduates, still full of college talk. The alumni ranged all the
way from these one-year men to the fifty-year men, twelve old men who had
come back to Sanford fifty years after their graduation, and two of them had
come all the way across the continent. There had been only fifty men originally in
that class; and twelve of them were back.
What brought them back? Hugh wondered. He thought he knew, but he couldn't
have given a reason. He watched those old men wandering slowly around the
campus, one of them with his grandson who was graduating this year, and he
was awed by their age and their devotion to their alma mater. Yes, Henley had
been right. Sanford was far from perfect, far from it—a child could see that—but
there was something in the college that gripped one's heart. What faults that old
college had; but how one loved her!
Thousands of Japanese lanterns had been strung around the campus; an electric
fountain sparkled and splashed its many-colored waters; a band seemed to be
playing every hour of the day and night from the band-stand in front of the Union.
It was a gay scene, and everybody seemed superbly happy except, possibly, the
seniors. They pretended to be happy, but all of them were a little sad, a little
frightened. College had been very beautiful—and the "world outside," what was
it? What did it have in store for them?
There were mothers and fathers there to see their sons receive their degrees,
there were the wives and children of the alumni, there were sisters and fianées of
the seniors. Nearly two thousand people; and at least half of the alumni drunk
most of the time. Very drunk, many of them, and very foolish, but nobody
minded. Somehow every one seemed to realize that in a few brief days they
were trying to recapture a youthful thrill that had gone forever. Some of the
drunken ones seemed very silly, some of them seemed almost offensive; all of
them were pathetic.
They had come back to Sanford where they had once been so young and
exuberant, so tireless in pleasure, so in love with living; and they were trying to
pour all that youthful zest into themselves again out of a bottle bought from a
bootlegger. Were they having a good time? Who knows? Probably not. A bald-