Hamilton has long held its young alumni in special regard, recognizing that recent graduates have distinct career needs, busy social lives and perspectives that are crucial to the continued growth and well-being of the campus community. But over the last few years, the College has given a new vigor and focus to its relationship with its youngest alumni — the so-called GOLD Group, or Graduates Of the Last Decade — and that relationship is flowering. From exclusive events with President Joan Hinde Stewart to the GOLD Scholars Program to an executive-level committee on the Alumni Council that represents GOLD interests, Hamilton and its young degree-holders are forging new ways to stay connected and nurturing those connections for the long term.
"It is really important to show young alumni that Hamilton is committed to engaging them," says Leah Tenney '04, co-chair of the Boston GOLD Group. "In turn, they will be more engaged with Hamilton."
The reasons are many. First among them are sheer demographics. GOLD members account for only one of the eight decades of class years represented by living alumni, but they comprise more than 4,300 graduates, or nearly 25 percent of the total Hamilton and Kirkland alumni body. Just as significant are the changing realities of professional life in the contemporary world. While careers for previous generations of graduates were often one- or two-stop affairs, a recent grad is more likely to move through multiple jobs, firms, educational opportunities, and even across fields and disciplines, making the shared college experience one of the few constants in adult life.
That makes for a distinct and valuable dual vision. "Young alumni have a unique perspective in that we are very close to our life on the Hill, yet we also are in 'the real world.' This allows us to connect with the Hill in different ways than those who are older," says Lynne Salkin '00, chair of the Committee for GOLD Group Engagement. "For example, young alumni can serve as an important link between students and life beyond the Hill," by advising seniors and juniors on job searches as well as working with the Career Center. "We are close enough to the search for our first jobs that we can really identify with the stress and uncertainty that comes with being a senior."
Additionally, while surveys by Gordon Hewitt, Hamilton's assistant dean of faculty for institutional research, show that the vast majority of recent graduates are exceptionally satisfied with the Hamilton experience — over the past five years, more than 90 percent of graduates said they were very or generally satisfied with their undergraduate education — they also interact with the College community differently than do their older counterparts. "We move around a lot, which makes it hard to keep track of mailing addresses and e-mail addresses," Salkin says. "We are new or relatively new to the workforce, which can make it difficult for us to travel back to the Hill, to attend events and to commit to volunteer roles." Engagement may instead come through online social-networking tools such as Facebook and, on the professional level, LinkedIn. "In fact," she says, "in the realm of communications there are even differences among the GOLD Group," with Facebook used much more extensively by the youngest alumni.
As a result, says Dave Steadman '03, Hamilton's director of young alumni giving, "You just can't underestimate the importance of having robust networking opportunities for young alums." The intensity of the Hamilton experience creates "fierce loyalty and passionately dedicated alumni," he says, but in a digital world it also means that the Office of Alumni Relations must "devise new ways to help young alumni connect the dots."
The relationship between the GOLD Group and Hamilton is flourishing in a number of ways:
"Having key administrators like Joan Stewart and Joe Urgo visit GOLD members specifically shows me that the College values the input of young alumni," says Abby Tracy '04, who chairs the Boston group with Tenney. "Many of us are unable to give significant financial support to the College, but that doesn't mean that we aren't invested in Hamilton. We have ideas and questions that would otherwise be lost at larger universities... Small breakfasts and lunches make for an interactive discussion with those administrators — it's almost like being back in college!"
The GOLD Scholars Program allows young graduates to make a direct and dramatic difference in the lives of those just a few years younger. "It's such a cool opportunity in that it gives a face and a personality to a gift," Steadman says. "Graduates know who these people are and can see the impact they'll have on the world once they graduate. That collective generosity is so powerful."
The survey will be "a driving force" behind the committee's work, Salkin says; meanwhile, the focus is on "existing programs and how they can be strengthened and expanded."
It's particularly important to GOLD representatives that their special interests and talents not isolate them from older alumni. Leah Tenney, noting a get-together planned by the Boston GOLD Group and the Boston Alumni Association, says, "Young alumni are interested in networking with older Hamilton alumni, and this sort of event will help them feel as though Hamilton is supporting them in that endeavor." And Abby Tracy speaks of the "common ground" that alumni of all generations renew at each meeting.
"Recent graduates can share all of the changes that have occurred at Hamilton, whether it's a new building or a change to the curriculum," she says. "It's always fun to hear a recent graduate talk about his or her experiences on campus to an older alumnus — the look of pride in both Hamiltonians' eyes is priceless! In a way, it's the younger alumni who can make the Hamilton experience more tangible to alumni who have been away from College Hill for years."