Every few months my undergrad alma mater sends me another edition of the college magazine. Anybody who’s given their college their current contact info knows exactly what I’m talking about. These magazines portray college life at your school today, at least a college life in which everyone is happy and studious and great things are happening everyday. No one fails a test, barfs in the quad or loses their financial aid in the college magazine. So while they’re good for quick read (or scan) on the toilet or over breakfast, they always feel a bit disingenuous.
But in the last few years they’ve actually started to irk me. I never thought about why until the other day. The Winter ’09 edition had arrived the week before and since sat in a pile of bills, magazines and junk I really didn’t feel like going through. Unemployment has made me care even less about mail – an impressive feat. Hats off to you, unemployment, for pushing my apathy to new depths.
But the other day I went through the pile and found the magazine. This thing was bigger and more substantial than a newsstand magazine or a mail-order catalog. It felt considered, like the school wants me to know that a lot of planning and effort went into its making. It stood out, but in the same way as consumer publications from mutual fund and life insurance companies – the kind featuring handsome retirees helping their grandkids onto a sailboat – or worse still sales collateral at business conferences.
Flipping through, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students smiled at me from each page, posed in their collegiate lives. Why do they always take real people and make them look fake? Professors appeared pensive, but seemed to enjoy themselves. Even the prof who terrorized my economics classes because his wife left him had found his smile somewhere. In the photo he shared a book with another professor; they must really be expensive these days. The campus seemed familiar, but only kind of, given all the improvements over the last 15 years. The stories in the magazine shared student challenges and accomplishments in the classroom and on the field and acknowledged local and national current events without actually having an opinion.
My college magazine isn’t meant to be
The last part of the magazine featured updates from graduating classes dating back 60+ years. And while I learned a couple new things about people I knew, I just ended up feeling bad about myself. Here were people moving forward with lives, getting promoted, having kids, doing impressive things. (Granted, they’re showing off for other alumni too.) Meanwhile I was sitting at home – unemployed and broke – reading about them and wondering where I went wrong. It put me in a funk for the rest of the day. Thanks for the pick-me-up. Whom shall I make the check out to?