Alumni Magazines: Why Do We Read Them?

Hi, there.

Yes, it’s me. I’m  back from my self-imposed vacation. Not nearly as relaxing as I hoped. But yes, I did the deed (and have a killer tan to show for it!) Just kidding.

I’ll be posting on Wednesday about what I learned while I was away. But today, I’d like to turn my attention to an entirely different matter:  alumni magazines and why we read them.

You see, while I was “on vacation,” I went to yoga one day. And because I arrived early, I began reading a magazine, as I often do. But I got so engrossed in what I was reading that the instructor actually had to “instruct” me to put the magazine down. (Yeah, I’m also the sort who fails to notice all the “silent zone” signs posted around the building. The first time I ever did yoga I walked blithely into class blathering away into my cellphone…what can I say? I’m a yoga convert, not a natural.)

As it happens, I was reading my college alumni magazine, the Brown Alumni Monthly. There was this fascinating story about a woman named Wendy Walker who ran away from home the summer before college because she’d had a falling out with her parents over getting engaged to her high school sweetheart. The story was all about how she very nearly never made it to Brown. And I got so caught up in trying to imagine not having gone to college at 17 in order to get married, that I failed to notice the hush that had settled in over the yoga studio as people quietly assumed their lotus positions.

Then, after class, a complete stranger walked up to me and said: “Are you reading your alumni magazine?”


“I hate those things,” she said.

“Why?” I asked, intrigued by her over-share. (As an American, I frequently strike up conversations with complete strangers in London, but rarely find the favor returned.)

“I think they’re so phony. You read them and everyone sounds so great, but then you talk to your friends from college and everyone’s depressed and miserable.”

“They are?” I thought, but kept it to myself.

But her comment got me thinking. Why *do* some people love reading alumni magazines and others hate it?

I read them for stories like the one I just mentioned, because I find it exciting to live vicariously through other people’s lives. (Needless to say, they also motivate me to try on alternate careers…i.e., what would it have been like if I’d moved to LA to become a television writer?)

But I could easily imagine reading them to derive a sense of shadenfreude (e.g., “Ha! I knew he was a loser!”) or to satisfy an erstwhile curiosity (“Wow! Did that couple who hooked up on Hawaiian night really end up getting married?”)

Or perhaps it has something to do with school spirit. I remember back in High School we were asked to design a poll about our school, and a classmate of mine asked the question “Would you attend a reunion in 10 years?” as a way to measure “school spirit.” So perhaps avid reading of alumni magazines is yet another indicator of high school spirit. (Yeah, I know. I went to Brown. Everyone has a lot of school spirit there…)

But the truth is, in my case at least, I love reading alumni magazines even for schools I didn’t attend. I used to teach at the University of Chicago and so I still get their alumni magazine. And even though – true to that school’s spirit – the magazine reads more like The Economist than your average alumni magazine, I still pore over it every month.

So today I’m trying to figure out what committed reading of alumni magazines is a sign of:  Middle-age? Nostalgia? Displaced cheerleader syndrome?

And I’d be curious to know:  Do you read your alumni magazine and, if so, does it fill you with fascination…disappointment…or dread?



For those who are interested, here’s my piece in PoliticsDaily on the latest round of immigration reform in the UK.


Image: Fall 2008 Catalogue by Lower Columbia College via Flickr under a Creative Commons License


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12 Responses to Alumni Magazines: Why Do We Read Them?

  1. Joanne G says:

    Hi Delia:

    I get 3 alumni magazines (1 from my H.S. the other two from colleges I attended) and I read them all. I read them because I find out what the latest fundraising projects are (usually a new building), they have interesting stories about alumni, and sometimes they mention friends and I get a momentary “Yes, I knew them when…” rush. I am glad I’m not the only one who reads them and finds them interesting/fascinating.

  2. daryl boylan says:

    To be frank — no. Or at least, hardly ever. At my age, I do, however, check on class reunions news, partly to see who’s still above ground and partly because once in a blue moon hit on something interesting, or at least gossippy

  3. Sarah says:

    Yes – i read them, but skip all the long articles and instead go straight to the class notes (i read all of them starting back in the dark ages to the recent grads). i also like the ads and the classifieds in the back…. weird i know

  4. LPC says:

    I’ve always read mine. Not that I often know the people or anything. I think it’s just the sound of the class secretary’s voice. It brings me back. Oddly comforting. And this might have been the weirdest answer you ever got to a question here:).

  5. KT says:

    I do read mine. I think I’m just curious about the current experiences going on at a place that shaped so much of the rest of my life through the knowledge and relationships gained there. I do enjoy looking through the notes/updates on where folks are at now – although that’s nearly obsolete now that you can find folks on facebook.

  6. I went to a very small college with only about 550 people in my class, so I love reading my alumni magazine. I like to know what my classmates are doing and I even like reading the life stories/obituaries of the alumni from the early classes. Many of the professors from my time (I am class of ’85) are still around and I am interested in their research.

    I am mostly, however, interested in the gossip about Howard from Hanzen, who, after 15 years of marriage and three children, is now Mary.

    I do not care about the university president or what he thinks, nor do I want to see his photo.

  7. Ceci says:

    I do read them…mostly to see the life paths of past classmates. Somtimes the sharing seems genuine, but then there are those pretty attention-seeking additions. At any rate, it’s an interesting, guilty pleasure.

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