Reunions 2007 drew record attendance and offered a record number of activities for those who returned to the Hill. But one of the major stories to emerge from the gathering has been the burgeoning popularity of the Alumni College sessions and similar events, which give alumni an opportunity to balance their memories of college life with some present-day intellectual engagement.
LaurieAnn Russell, associate director of alumni relations and director of Reunion Weekend, says a great many attendees responding to a survey "mention Alumni Colleges as being one of the best things about the weekend."With more than 20 sessions on topics ranging from scientific research to Middle East policy to historical biography, the summer's Alumni College offerings reflected both the growing "lifelong learning" trend and the strong sense of connection between Hamilton and its former students.
"I think alums who come to reunions are always curious about what's actually going on now," says Dan Chambliss, the Eugene M. Tobin Distinguished Professor of Sociology, who again presented a session titled "Assessing the Value of a Hamilton Education." "And I suspect that this is their way of getting a feel for that — what it's like to be a college student today."
Related to the Alumni College sessions but with a more artistic bent were a series of presentations rooted in the All-Kirkland Reunion and Kirkland College's unique contributions to the Hamilton community. Jo Pitkin K'78 and Liz Horwitt K'73 worked for a year to plan and organize "Kirkland Voices"—the first-ever reunion reading of prose and poetry by a group of alumnae writers, Pitkin believes. More than a literary reading, she says, the event "provided alumnae a chance to share their work with nearly 100 peers and teachers" and "demonstrated the abilities of mature writers who first studied their craft in our colleges."
The poet and education writer attributes the record attendance at Reunion Weekend in part to the introduction of creative presentations such as "Kirkland Voices," the "Inspirations" art show by Kirkland alumnae and the short dramas by alumnae in "Kirkland Echoes." "Hamilton and Kirkland alumni alike expressed to me that they had never returned to the Hill but did so because they were asked to participate in one of the events or because they wanted to support friends who were going to be sharing creative works," Pitkin says.
Chambliss adds that the maturity and motivation of returning alumni are key elements of a session's success. "The participants have been students in the past, but now they have some distance and perspective," he says. "What's really fun is to uncover something new that illuminates their own experience.