For me, becoming an alumnus was a lot like becoming middle aged – I never really expected it to happen to me, and then, when I woke up one day and realized it had already arrived, I had no idea what the hell to do about it.
My university never prepared me for being an alumnus. I am not sure many of us were. We picked up our diplomas, answered our phones (most of the time) when the university came calling in six months and played our part as donor, or mentor, or volunteer, when called upon.
For me, it continues to be an affable, if unspectacular, relationship. Such is the fate for those of us who are in no danger of having a building named after us on our undergraduate campus.
But that will change for a lot of institutions in the near future.
As thousands of alumni return to Western’s campus this weekend, my thoughts turned to the next generation of alumni who are currently seated in classrooms across campus.
I have great expectations for this bunch. These kids are going to change everything – from how we view work-life balance to how we approach health care, politics and technology. No generation has both desired connections, and had more options at their fingertips to make those connections, than this one.
And when the Baby Boomers (finally) step aside – their era will dawn.
What will that mean for them as alumni one day? Perhaps that is an exhausting answer for my Alumni Relations colleagues to consider, but there is an excitement surrounding this wave of energy that will come rushing over us in the next decade or so.
And don’t blame them for being eager and demanding. We made them this way.
As universities, we have trained these young people to work collaboratively, think globally and give of themselves. We have embedded them in a culture of support. We asked them to question ‘how we’ve always done things’ – so don’t get irritated when they do just that.
What will these young alumni allow us to do as an institution that we never contemplated? The possibilities are endless.
I think of those students French Studies professor Henri Boyi takes into far-off communities through his Rwanda: Culture, Society and Reconstruction course. I think of those who lend a helping hand across town or around the globe as part of Alternative Spring Break. I think of all those students who have driven their hands deep into the mud of Vindolanda or dipped a toe in Lake Naivasha.
All because of their time at Western.
I think of all these students and all their experiences they will carry with them for a lifetime; I cannot see them limiting their involvement to simply answering the phone, writing a cheque and walking away. They will demand – and you’ll pardon the well-worn expression – an experience as our next wave of alumni.
And I have great expectations for what that will look like.