| Class Act|
Alum confesses a deep, dark secret: She hates even the thought of sending in a class note.
By Monica Metzler
What's the first thing you do when the mail contains your alumni magazine? Is it (a) open the bills; (b) flop on the couch and scan for intellectually stimulating articles related to your major; (c) feel guilty you still haven't responded to the annual appeal and pull out your checkbook; (d) turn to the class notes section and search for names of anyone you ever knew?
Those who answered a, b or c are lying through their teeth. But the question is whether the strong attraction to the class notes section of the magazine reflects the warm, nostalgic feeling toward one's student days or the "perverse car accident phenomenon" where you know it will make you uncomfortable but you have to look anyway.
I conducted a very scientific study recently, i.e., I asked a bunch of friends about the class notes section, and was surprised by the impassioned responses. My survey group was quite familiar with the topic; several have graduate degrees and therefore receive magazines from multiple institutions.
The overwhelming sentiment was that the snippets do not truly reflect people's lives. One sadly noted that there were countless very successful women who apparently consider getting married to be their only noteworthy accomplishment. Another had finally sent in a comment that she and another alum had met in India and were hiking in Nepal during the class reunion, but then was chagrined to see it appear next to an alum listed as a neurosurgeon.
One cynic said, "Most of the blurbs are divided into three kinds of people: the student government types; people who just had kids; and people who want business contacts."
I love hearing - not reading - about old college friends I lost touch with years ago and what they've been up to. An alumni note, on the other hand - whether you liked the person or not, knew him well or only casually - is more like a tease in that it leaves you wanting to know more. Even worse, it's a 1950s' Father Knows Best version in which only good things happen that fit a strict formula: receive an award, show professional accomplishment, get married, have children. Who is on the committee that made up these rules, and where can I find them to smack their heads together?!?!
In truth, no one from on high concocted any rules for submitting alumni information. Yet, despite years of quality higher education and all our accomplishments since then, most of us still suffer from pangs of personal inadequacy combined with humility and shyness. Thus, we believe only certain recognized life milestones are worth relating. How ridiculous!
I have concluded from the results of my study that I can write much more appealing alumni notes than those produced under the current process. I propose the following for some NU alumni I know:
Craig, of Nashville, spends his free time being an outstanding bluegrass singer and songwriter.
Katrina, of Boulder, Colo., works hard but loves her work and still has the unbelievable ability to put anyone instantly at ease.
Mitch, of Washington, D.C., despite being in the thick of Capitol Hill politics, has maintained his terrific sense of humor and incredibly infectious laugh. Maria, of Chicago, proves the size of her heart and puts words into action by founding an organization to help inner-city children attend the school of their choice.
Is there a solution to the pervasive problem of alumni angst? Indeed, yes. First, chuck your narrow-minded perceptions of "acceptable" information to submit. Next, strongly encourage your friends to send in something that you know others would like to see.
Also, check out the online alumni directory at the Northwestern Web site. That way, you can look up old friends when you pass through their town and find time to reminisce over coffee. It'll make their day. And make sure your listing includes current phone numbers and e-mail addresses so folks can find you.
To put my money where my mouth is, here is my first-ever class note: Monica Metzler is a recovering attorney in Chicago (she claims she quit practicing because she mastered it) and is excited about her new job. She is not married, has no children, loves throwing parties and enjoys connecting with long-lost friends.
Editor's note: Despite Metzler's suggestion to celebrate the simple facts of life in class notes, we feel compelled to add her most recent achievement: Monica Metzler (SESP86) was named the director of Northwestern University's 150th anniversary (Sesquicentennial) celebration, which will occur in 2001. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.