I started this editorship in February, on a day that once would have been called unseasonably warm. The rest of that week passed in a blur of orientations and meetings, so that it wasn’t until the next week that I ventured from the Alumni Office on West 113th Street to campus — there, halfway down the march of College Walk, I paused and looked around. From that vantage point, many of the College and University’s icons assert themselves: Hamilton Hall and Low and Butler Libraries; the pedestal on which once rose the Sundial; the seat where Alma Mater still watches over all. Geographically speaking, this is where the red pin drops: You are here, at Columbia.
And so I am, and I’m thrilled and grateful for the opportunity. It’s my second go with Columbia College Today. I was managing editor for more than four years ending last January, and being back feels like a homecoming of sorts. It also feels in some ways like I never left. I may not have been on campus, but there wasn’t a week that passed without my hearing about College alumni making their mark on the world. A comedy sketch gone viral, a presidential legacy debated, a Supreme Court nomination made. When you work with alumni the way we do at CCT — meeting them, reporting on their accomplishments, following the personal and professional turns in their lives — their names, your names, become braided into our consciousness. More than that: We feel pride in the ways you contribute to today’s news and culture. We are curious about your challenges. We want to hear about the journeys that shaped you along the way. And we want to share those stories.
I cut my teeth as a journalist at a community newspaper on Martha’s Vineyard, and from that experience came the conviction — if I may crib from something I wrote long ago — “that everyone has a story to tell and a passion of one kind or another. Sometimes the story spills out so fast the pen cannot keep up. Other times the conversation is more diffcult, the essential thing ashes like a quarter on a sun-splashed sidewalk — and if you do not watch and listen carefully you will miss it.”
Those words remain at the core of my sensibility as an editor and writer. Learning about other people energizes me. So does finding the right words to convey their stories. It’s what motivated me to attend the School of the Arts, where I studied nonfiction writing, and what drew me afterward to a human interest publication. It makes for a diverse beat, one that in fact contains many others — science, technology, business, politics, food, the performing arts. And the College is an ideal place to practice it.
In that same excerpt I wrote, too, of the importance of carefulness in listening, and I promise to carry that same care and attentiveness into my stewardship of CCT. I also carry with me the lessons taken from Alex Sachare ’71, whose warmth and thoughtfulness steered this magazine for more than 18 years. (You can read more in praise of Alex in this issue’s “Letters to the Editor.”) One of the first things he advised me to do, as we sat across the table from each other in a conference room in November 2011, was to read Class Notes: “They’re the best way to get to know our alumni.”
And how. Class Notes contain an incredible breadth of voices; they span more than 70 years and together reflect the collective intellect, eloquence and heart of College alumni. I learned about your families, pastimes, professions, causes and concerns; what animates and, occasionally, what angers you. To edit the entirety of Class Notes is also to begin to wrap one’s mind around what it means to have a readership that is 52,000 strong.
In the end, that number is what I come back to time and again. The 52,000 whose connections to one another we aim to illuminate and deepen. The 52,000 whose perspectives we want to share and whom we want to put in conversation with one another. The 52,000 who form the community that this magazine uniquely represents. The 52,000 for and about whom we tell stories.
Being your editor is a privilege and a responsibility. I look forward to it.
Published quarterly by the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development for alumni, students, faculty, parents and friends of Columbia College.