Of all the lessons that come from editing Columbia College Today, the most inviolable is that when an issue arrives, most readers’ first stop will be Class Notes. That compendium of personal news and anecdotes is the best-read part of our magazine; alumni tell us so in letters and conversation, and our surveys confirm it. The section sounds a veritable clarion call: Come see what your friends and classmates have done lately.
Through the years I’ve surveyed quite a few alumni magazines, and I have no doubt that CCT features one of the largest — quite possibly, the largest — Class Notes section. It accounts for about half of our pages, 77 columns from 1941 to 2017, a whopping 46,000 words per issue.
The constraints are few. Class Notes writers are allotted a healthy word count per column (1,500, though admittedly, some of our stalwart correspondents would like to have more) and a democratic approach to inclusion. They are the place to share what’s happening in your life, in your own words, with your class. And not just your class, because the fact is, most readers skip through the years, stopping when they see a name they recognize or a tidbit catches the eye. Serendipity is part of the fun. There are reports of job changes and graduations; kudos of all kinds; marriage and birth announcements; outpourings of familial pride; accounts of hobbies, travel and retirement; bids to join Reunion Committees and dispatches from the event itself. Memories and jokes are freely traded, as are a few tall tales. Deaths are mourned. On occasion, poetry is written.
Actually, the section as a whole is a kind of poetry — the story of so many lives, marked by a common bond, unfolding in countless ways that are familiar and yet each their own. The everyday is made extraordinary by our attention to these details, and our resolution to write them down.
Looking ahead, however, Class Notes faces a challenge as we march deeper into the Digital Age. Flip through the section and you can see it: Starting in the 1990s, the columns get progressively shorter. There are exceptions, but the trend is unmistakable. It makes sense considering the way we communicate today, in bits and bursts on social media platforms like Facebook. Millennials especially are in the habit of sharing there and on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, and quite possibly somewhere else by the time you read this. To write a letter or email with personal updates is far from their default setting.
With each year, we’ve also morphed into an increasingly visual lot. Most everyone has a smartphone camera in their pocket. Shoot and post — as the saying goes, a picture tells a thousand words. And those of us scrolling through our feeds have come to crave that visual connection.
So how can Class Notes continue to be a place for all our alumni to share their news, however they prefer to communicate? It’s a question we’ve pondered for some time, and one answer is: more photos. Yes, we’ve always printed them in our Class Notes pages, but we know the number doesn’t nearly reflect all your snap-happy habits. Starting this issue, we aim to change that — to publish more of your photos, so that Class Notes reflects more fully the community that you are today, and so that it feels as alive with images as it does with voices.
Please, consider this your call: Send pictures. We’ll showcase them throughout the section and, for our Lion weddings, in our new Just Married! section (page 78). As with written Class Notes, the constraints are few: for a Class Notes photo, at least two alumni must be present; for a wedding photo, one member of the couple must be a College alum; and we need a little something about what you’re doing and who’s with you for the caption.
Meanwhile, led by the section’s superintendent, CCT Associate Editor Anne-Ryan Heatwole JRN’09, we’ll continue to seek ways to evolve Class Notes. And while we’re on the subject, a thank you is in order for our class correspondents — for all their service and dedication, and for rising to the challenge of changing with us.
Finally, if you haven’t sent a Class Note in a while — or ever — I hope you’ll do so. Your classmates want to hear from you, and so do we.
Alexis Boncy SOA’11
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.