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From Big Blue to Old Blue,
after a 45-year hiatus

Stewart Palmer graduated from Yale College yesterday. Next week, he’ll speak at his 45th class reunion.

Palmer, who’s 68 years old, first arrived at Yale 50 years ago as a member of the class of 1968. Illness caused him to miss so much school that the university “told me to come back as a freshman again in 1965,” he says by e-mail. “That put me in the class of 1969.”

But the sophomore slump hit Palmer hard.

“I didn’t even know why I was here,” Palmer told the Yale Daily News last year. “I had the vague sense that I was going to Yale because my parents wanted me to go to Yale and that I was going to college because all of my peers went to college.”

So in the spring of 1967, he decided to take some time off to figure things out.

That time off ended up stretching to 45 years—90 semesters—through a Navy stint in Vietnam and a long career in computer science, mostly at IBM.

“He had found what many of us aspire to: a great career in a field he loved,” the Yale Daily noted. “But something nagged at him, ‘this deep sense that I should have finished Yale.’”

“I had always said, ‘It’s a choice I made, it’s something I’m going to have to live with,’” Palmer told the student newspaper.

A few years ago, inspired by the woman he later married, he began to consider returning. What he originally conceived of as “unfinished business”—with a planned a degree in computer science—transformed into an “intellectual adventure.” Palmer returned to Yale in 2012 as a junior, carrying a full course load. He majored in history. And he loved it.

“My final two years at Yale have been a life-altering experience, which is what college is supposed to be,” he writes. After nearly 1,000 pages of papers and problem sets, “My brain has changed substantially. I can see it in the way that I write and think and read.”

At the class of ’69 reunion at the end of this month, Palmer will sit on a panel with fellow alumni. The topic: “The Road Less Traveled.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Stewart Palmer, Yale College, Class of 1969
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