Posted by: joha5 | October 19, 2010

The Myth of the Alumni Magazine

Much like you, I get a lot of mail and most of it consists of advertisements, solicitations, junk mail, or bills.  But every now and then I get something so awful, so terrible, and so genuinely abhorrent that even though I know I will hate myself if I read it I somehow always decide to do it anyway.  That piece of mail is my college alumni magazine. 

Three or four times a year this huge, glossy, and expensive-to-produce magazine arrives at my doorstep.  The covers are always the same.  They feature an overly happy student or alumnus doing something sickeningly cute with an equally as cringeworthy tagline.  You would think that some cookie-cutter person or couple holding a teddy bear with some tagline saying “College gave me a beary nice life” would be enough to dissuade me from opening it.  But it doesn’t.  It makes me want to open it up to see if this tactlessness and overt gaudiness could really be true. 

This image hasn't been in the alumni magazine...yet. But I wouldn't be surprised to see something exactly like it in the next issue.

Now I realize that this magazine is supposed to be for the alumni, is supposed to let us know what other alumni are doing, and is supposed to serve as a way for us to get information on what the college is up to and how much it has progressed since my days there on campus.  But we all know that isn’t what it is really for.  All it does is serve as a showcase to potential donors and prospective families who are either interested in donating money to the school or sending their children there.  And what do they want?  Cookie-cutter people with bland cookie-cutter success stories. 

I guess I can’t really blame them.  If I was a parent or a donor I suppose that I would want the same.  I would want to know that my kid and my money would be going to a safe place that the school would be a good investment.  But I would also like to think that, as a parent, I would actually know better than to judge a book by its cover.  The irony at my alma mater is especially inescapable considering  its manta is to ‘Engage the World’ yet those who actually do in any way that most people would ever care about would never be seen in any college magazine.   Do you want to know what was on the cover of the most recent issue?  A couple of students who got married and decided to start a bead business somewhere in the backwaters of western Maryland.  Beads.  Do you want to know what the cover was?  It was a picture of them lying head to toe absolutely draped in thousands of beads.  That’s right.  I said it again.  Beads


So here is the deal.  Am I happy that they are married and have started something that they apparently love?  Of course.  Am I pleased that they are happy with their lives and their business?  Sure.  Do I want the best for them in their marriage, future, and family?  Absolutely.  But do I get anything out of reading a reconstructed narrative of how my college prepared them for their transition into the bead world?  Hell no.  In fact, reading a story about two 20-somethings who got married almost right out of college and decided to settle down and go into the bead industry not only makes me feel sorry for them but it would make me think twice about what the hell this school is doing to these kids in the first place.  

I can hear my future parental thoughts now.  “Did these kids have any higher aspirations than beads?  Have they always been such a big fan of said beads?  I wonder if they discovered this passion while taking a bead class in college?  Do you think they met because of their love for beads or in spite of it?”  This is what I would think.  My next thought would then be “what the hell am I doing wasting my time on thinking about this”?  If the college’s mantra was ‘Engage some Beads’ then fine…put them on the cover and I’ll think about it all day.  Are they doing well and making money?  Yes.  Have they gotten married?  Yup.  Are they going to start a family?  Probably – if for no other reason than to stave off the boredom of the beads.  But is this really engaging the world?  I certainly know what I would say but I’ll leave it up to you to make your own personal judgement.

The vast majority of the people I was friends with at college have done some absolutely incredible – if not abnormal – things.  They have gone on to live extremely productive and fascinating lives.  They have done higher degrees, traveled the world, learned new skills and languages, met and worked with some transformative people, and have done exactly what my college wanted them to do…to engage the world and become citizens of it.  Would the higher-ups at my alma mater ever call any of them up and ask them to be on the cover of this absurd magazine so that they could tell their story?  The answer is no.  Furthermore, even if somebody at my college read this, agreed with what I am saying (which they won’t), and called somebody up somebody and asked them to share their narrative after college, I can absolutely promise you that the vast majority would refuse.  Being in this magazine and letting the college reshape your personal history to a narrative constructed by somebody hired to do so is not a badge of honor.  It is a badge of shame and embarrassment.  All my old college has to do to figure this out is ask a few people and get their opinions.  But then again, I am sure that they have and I am sure that they don’t care either.  They have a bottom line to uphold and a college alumni magazine is one of the biggest pieces of propaganda that they can put out there. 

So where does that leave me and the rest of the alumni who can’t stand receiving it?  Well, we can’t opt out of it.  Even if we tried to I am sure they would continue sending it in the hopes that I will one day strike it rich and give them more money (NOTE: In full disclosure, I do actually donate a small amount of money annually to my college and high school).  Nobody gets any useful information out of it no matter how much they try to provide.  And why is this?  Because there is a little thing called the internet that anybody can use at any time of their choosing to find out any kind of information that they would like.  It’s incredible.  Come to think of it, I actually think the college knows what it is too because we also get monthly emails and updates on everything that is happening on campus anyway.  So, basically, this leaves us with a glossy magazine that they probably spent our donated money on to produce and send to us and this magazine goes right in the trash within a couple of hours of receiving it.  Great.

This is where the magazine goes...and this is where it belongs.

Then again, maybe they produce it to send all of us alumni a message.  Maybe they are saying that you, too, can have your story told in this illustrious magazine if you one day play your cards right, engage the world in a way that challenges yourself and others around you, and take the knowledge that we garnered all of those years ago and put those critical thinking skills to good use…just make sure the story you tell is safe enough for future parents and donors to read about.   

…now if only I could find those damn beads.



  1. My favorite part about reading this was thinking of a certain college staff member we both know and love, reading this and having a chortle, if not fully belly laugh, after having read this, were said person to have stumbled upon it. That, and of course, the BEADS! … REALLY!? effing beads. THAT’S WHERE I WENT WRONG. I should have gone with the beads!
    I’ll be doing this: all night, only replace marbles with beads.

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