Meeting with alumni doesn’t feel like work: sometimes it’s about seeing old friends, sometimes it’s more like meeting distant relatives that you’ve never seen before but with whom you share all sorts of surprising and subtle connections. Alumni who were at the college before I started working there often begin a conversation with me by working up to my arrival via the lineage of history faculty that they knew and took classes with, the same way you’d place a distant cousin by working out who the relatives were that you both know. Seeing your own students, spread out over an increasingly long period of time, is really the most powerful way to get a sense of the consequences of your own decisions as a teacher, to see what value you add or fall short of achieving.
But making connections between faculty and alumni is work, work of the very best kind, best because it’s easy and pleasurable and enlightening. I think especially for small colleges, information technology is making it possible to sustain an enduring link between the classes being taught today, the students admitted and the diverse careers and life situations of the alumni. I’m getting increasingly excited by some of the possibilities: alumni are the first, best public for academia and the natural sounding board for working out its future.