I find it hard to believe, but I graduated from Wesleyan 20 years ago. At that time, I didn’t even know about the Alumni Association, let alone consider the existence of a group brought together across the decades by this common experience: a Wesleyan education.
My first experience with this concept was in the job search. The Career Resource Center provided a list of alumni names in the right profession and geographic location. I remember the first alumnus I contacted, a man in his senior years (or so I thought at the time), and I was struck by how willingly he–and others–made themselves available to meet with me, how they sketched out possible career paths and how, in short order, I really had met “anyone who was anyone” involved in government relations or public/private foundation work in Hartford. It became a network, with one contact leading to another and another. The fact that these bright and busy people would be eager to help, just because we had Wesleyan in common, was amazing to me.
Later, I began to receive mailings about seminars featuring Wesleyan faculty, which local alumni hosted in their homes. Each time I’d get one of these postcards, I’d think, “That topic sounds so interesting”–or–“I remember that professor!”–but I didn’t want to go to some “stranger’s” home. Besides, I thought, everyone would be so much older than I was, and what would we have in common? Finally, a friend, John Moore ’75 MALS ’80, convinced me (and my husband Chris ’81) to go with him to one of these seminars. This one featured Professor of Music Neely Bruce in a seminar and concert on ragtime music. Next, John convinced me to attend a Club Steering Committee meeting, which I found “surprisingly” fun–food, drink, friendship, and, of course, a lot of discourse and discussion. I discovered that I had a lot in common with those “older strangers”: we each valued our Wesleyan education.
Now, the Alumni Association wants to make sure that no Wesleyan student ever leaves the campus after four years with the blind spot that I had. Now, alumni contact each student several times before they graduate–and even before they arrive. “Summer Send-offs” in locations across the country introduce frosh and their parents to alumni from their home area in festive, welcoming events.
This student outreach, a priority with the past few Alumni Association chairs, has become a new and strong tradition. And “strong” is a particularly appropriate word. On arrival day, incoming freshmen receive not only a little gift from the Alumni Association–luggage tags one year; a keychain and mini-flashlight another–but the one kind of help each frosh and his/her parents really need at that moment: actual physical labor. Sponsored by the Alumni Association, friendly and willing people pitch in to carry up the clock radios, the lamps, the posters, the boxes, and the bedspreads to the dorm rooms–proof of the bond that exists between people who love Wesleyan, and physical proof of the Association’s usefulness in everyday life.
Throughout their four years here, we invite students to attend Alumni Association Executive Committee meetings, share in Club events while they are home on vacation, and join in festivities at Homecoming/Family Weekend, as well as Reunion & Commencement. This past year, a panel of students also addressed alumni, parents and students on the subject of dissent and dialogue in liberal education–a favorite topic at Wesleyan through the decades.
In the “pre-alumni” (that would be senior) year, the Association tries to be particularly visible and inclusive. In addition to giving each new graduate a parting gift–this year a booklet, “Life After School. Explained” that included Alumni Relations contact information–the Alumni Association sponsored the Senior Class barbecue. And to make sure our newest alumni start off with a good Reunion tradition, seniors now march in the Alumni Parade held on Saturday of Reunion & Commencement Weekend, this year led by David Day ’27 and Karl Hartzell ’27.
As chair of the Alumni Association, I have the pleasure of addressing the Senior Class at Commencement. I take this opportunity to remind graduating seniors that–in case they hadn’t noticed–their “family” had grown to include more than 30,000 fellow alumni, all eager to applaud as they walked across to receive their diploma, all eager to help the newest members of this very real network of which we are all a part: The Wesleyan Alumni Association.
Twenty years ago I had no clue.
Kate Quigley Lynch ’82 has now completed her term as chair of the Wesleyan Alumni Association. At the association’s annual meeting, held on campus during Reunion & Commencement Weekend, David Bartholomew ’81 (pictured above with Kate) was elected chair for 2002–04.