The 10-year reunion this weekend at Northwestern University underscored a few things about the college experience that awkward, arbitrarily spaced group gatherings have a way of bringing into focus. Herewith, a few:
• June of 2001 was possibly the strangest time in the past 50 years in which to receive a college degree. George W. Bush was still a compassionate conservative, the World Trade Center towers were comfortably vertical, there was no war in Afghanistan … and within six months, the '90sesque world we prepared for had rejoined history.
• No one looks the same after 10 years. We’re fatter, greyer, wrinklier, splotchier — and calmer. More confident. Better-acquainted with successes and failures alike. Whole people, in many regards. Yet certainly none the comelier.
• Football’s a nice centerpiece to a reunion weekend. But it can’t be the only reason people come back to visit the university. Northwestern (and other major research institutions) find they typically have far lower alumni giving rates than liberal arts schools. One reason, I venture, is that big research institutions have no ostensible raison d'etre other than to make their matriculants employable and get them into law/med/business schools. It’s a mechanistic approach to education, and uninspiring. They’d be better off setting out to sculpt and equip the next generation of troublemakers, hellraisers, firebrands and malcontents.
Of course, I’m the fink who inadvertently assisted in turning my j-school graduation into a circus that the Chronicle of Higher Education later saw fit to cover. And even I donate to the school these days. So what do I know.