It was a milestone that will come around just once in my lifetime. Unless, of course, I live to be 122 years old.


Last weekend was the 50-year reunion of my UNC Class of 1969. I was surrounded by folks I hadn’t seen in 50 or more years. Most all of them were unrecognizable, primarily because they were entirely indistinguishable from their yearbook photos.


Another reason is that I never knew the vast majority of them personally. There were a couple of reasons for that. First, we had an incoming freshman class of 3,000 students and they were scattered in dorms all around our huge campus.


Secondly, I spent most of my time at the gym playing pickup basketball and, therefore, had a relatively small circle of friends. What was most disappointing for me was that not one of the reunion attendees remembered me as the one who blocked his shot during a game.


Come to think of it, who would dare admit to having his shot slapped away by some 5-foot-8 shorty?


At our dinner-dance, the quarterback on the 1969 football team came to sit at our table. I was quick to let him know I recognized him only by his name tag. I’ll give him this: he did bear a slight resemblance to that handsome athlete of yesteryear.


There was one classmate I recognized immediately. It was at our opening reception held on the old student union patio.


I was sitting with my wife Ginny talking to Rebecca, who I had met at the 40-year reunion. I happened to glance across the way and saw a familiar face and said excitedly, “There’s Ronnie. I’ll be back.”


Ronnie, now a medical doctor who goes by Ron, was sitting with his wife. I approached him and he seemed to know me as well, despite my hair-deprived pate.


Ron had lived on the first floor of Graham Dorm while I stayed on the third floor. We weren’t close friends, but our relationship was marked by one special occasion.


For reasons now long forgotten, Ron — then Ronnie — asked me to his room one afternoon for a glass of wine. What was so memorable for me was the milestone nature of the event.


You see — except for that time my tippling grandpa gave me a sip of his beer when I was about 3 years old — it was my first experience with libatious activity.


I asked Ron if he remembered the day he provoked me into perversion. He laughed and said the drink in question was probably sangria, which was the one wine he kept on hand as a student.


Our reunion weekend was filled with luncheons and dinners and enrichment sessions and campus tours. One of our classmates — Alexander Julian — designed the latest graduation gowns and created a special sash for our class.


We were given gowns and the sashes to wear at graduation. When all the 2019 graduates-to-be were seated and a respectable number of onlookers sat in the Kenan Stadium stands, we old-timers came out of the tunnel normally reserved for the football team and marched onto the field to musical sounds from the ’60s.


As we proceeded two-by-two up the center aisle, we high-fived the seniors all the way up to the stage before parting left and right. We weren’t the only ones mouthing the words to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Be Young, Be Foolish But Be Happy” and “My Girl.” Students of a new generation were also singing along to “our music.”


So as not to intrude too much on the graduates’ special day, we proceeded back to the tunnel while the chancellor was saying nice things about our class. Quoting the words of the late Charles Kuralt, he noted that we were “conspirators for good.”


I like to think that most of us have used the past 50 years to be positive influences on society. It seemed like most of the classmates I met were doctors or nurses or lawyers or business professionals.


I couldn’t find even one other ‘69’er who required 36 years to graduate. I guess all those guys stayed home to dust their diplomas.


But I came away with more than Alex’s sash, a certificate of gratitude for 50 years of loyalty, and a medallion in remembrance of our class’s 50th reunion. More important are the memories of these recent happy times that wouldn’t have been possible without the flashbacks from 50-plus years ago.


And, of course, there are my new old friends I’ll recognize next time.


By the way, as 50-year alums we now are members of the Old Students Club which meets annually at reunion time. I can’t wait for next year to see old friends and to help the 1970 grads celebrate their 50th.


Larry Penkava is a staff writer for The Courier-Tribune. Contact: 336-626-6116, lpenkava@courier-tribune.com.