Alumni mass on the steps of Vollum for Working Weekend ’13. Photo by Leah Nash
Some 99 alumni descended on campus last month. Naturally it felt good to catch sight of familiar faces in the Quad and gossip about absent classmates in the Paradox. But this was not a social event—we came with our sleeves rolled up.
Working Weekend (see page 7) was a vivid demonstration of the power of alumni to help students get a toehold in the jobplace. Over the course of 48 hours, we talked with students about our lucky breaks, our first real jobs, our worst interview experiences. We opened our hearts and our rolodexes. We steered them towards internships and jobs. We sweated details—I bumped into NPR correspondent Robert Smith ’89 dashing through Eliot Hall scrounging up snacks for the students at his Radio Bootcamp. Meanwhile, a half-dozen alumni entrepreneurs—representing decades of marketplace experience—sat for hours in Vollum patiently coaching students through an elevator pitch.
Over the years, I have witnessed innumerable examples of alumni giving students a leg up on a job or a career. Which raises a fascinating question: What is it that drives us to fly thousands of miles and spend a perfectly good weekend to help perfect strangers whose only bond with us is Reed?
Some of it, I suppose, could be chalked up to mid-career narcissism. We like to feel wise. We are flattered that students think we have learned something worth knowing. But I don’t think that accounts for the passion, the intensity, and the dedication that the alumni volunteers lavished on students this weekend. Narcissism is a fancy haircut, not a weekend in a lecture hall.
The truth is that we have something in common with Reed students—it’s difficult to put a finger on, but there’s a genuine connection that goes beyond living in Doyle or majoring in linguistics. We see students as versions of ourselves, younger (possibly thinner) versions, who share our dreams but who don’t carry our baggage. Who inhabit that wonderful, terrifying stage of life when a Joni Mitchell tune can spark a romance and a conversation in the Paradox can lead to a career in neuroscience.
By offering Reedies our hard-won insights, we are in a sense redeeming our own past. Our mistakes are no longer just screw-ups—they are lessons. They help to make us who we are. By sharing these lessons, we gain a deeper understanding of the past and a tantalizing glimpse of the future.
Not a bad way to spend the weekend.