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The Future of the Alumni Movement

The Future of the Alumni Movement

The school’s alumni movement reminds me of the main playground at Loyola. There, during lunch-break on any working day, you could find numerous groups of students playing different games. There were the senior boys playing football, and there were numerous smaller groups of smaller children playing football or cricket. Often the twain did meet, but after glares or gore, the glory of sport would continue.

Similarly, in the Loyola alumni movement, you can see the Old Boys’ Association playing their game, and smaller groups of Loyolites opting for corners of the field.

When people are thus playing to their heart’s content, I hate to be the messenger of bad news: this multiplicity of groups, the networks and all that are fine for the present, but they are inadequate for the future. Why?

Sounding the alarm?

To signal the end of the lunch-break, and the restart of classes, the school used to ring a bell. If the bell didn’t exist, students would have played for more hours, till they got tired and quit the field.

This is what’s happening in the Loyola alumni movement. There is no co-ordinating agency to perform the role of the bell, and volunteers (in OBA as well as other groups) who lose the initial enthusiasm, quit the scene. The remaining chaps do not know what to do, they too are tired, and they kick the ball around lazily. They don’t play for an audience, the spectators leave, and as time passes by, it becomes difficult to get enough spectators. In short, the game in town collapses or becomes a farce.

The absence of a co-ordinator hurts the movement significantly in another way: no one pays attention to the future. The players believe that they are playing for fun, not for achieving worthy goals. They are volunteers who play when they feel like it. Identifying goals for the future (how alumni can help the school), or constantly updating information about old boys, or building goodwill for the future (by sending newsletters, maintaining a website), are “serious” things for…well, somebody else. Bad news again — somebody else got tired and left the field.

Thus, when things have to be done, but are not done, the movement weakens. All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy.

Some of us believe that it’s a free market, and that one group or the other will emerge as the dominant player/game in town. That is possible, but unlikely, because the groups here are undertaking activities voluntarily, and limiting their game to their own small spheres. Also, e-groups and Orkut communities may grow in size and number, but after a while, their enthusiasm wanes.

Tomorrow, we can do fantastic things for the school and the community. Or maybe tomorrow, we may need to come together for a cause. Who has the credibility and the reach to bring us together? None, at the moment.

For a healthy future, the alumni movement probably needs to drop anchor in the school, and shed its voluntary character. The school should set up an office, generate funds (from alumni and the management), employ professional staff, and run the alumni movement. Universities abroad and MBA institutes in India have adopted that model partly because they realise that the schools themselves will benefit by promoting alumni relations.

The Loyola alumni movement needs a school bell.

To Sir, with Love

To Sir, with Love

Logo of Teacher's Day Campaign; Pic: istockphoto

Loyola School teachers were generous. On a day when we students were supposed to make them feel special, they sportingly entertained us — by agreeing to a round of basketball, with the odds stacked against them. I now feel that the staff vs students match on Teacher’s Day was unjust as much as it was in jest. Let’s make amends.

Five years ago, when Vivek Krishnan (1997) and I led Loyola’s alumni association, we visited teachers to invite them for the ‘Back to School’ event. It was an eye-opener. One teacher refused to meet us, another entertained us politely, but the vast majority were simply thrilled to see us.

There’s always a joy when you meet somebody after several years. But the teachers were happy because we remembered them. They insisted that we had taken pains to visit them; our protests were brushed aside. For, in their experience, old boys rarely contact teachers, leave alone meet.

At times, an old boy invites teachers to his wedding. Among retired teachers, only a select few get such invites. And believe it or not, less than a handful of students in any batch invite teachers to weddings.

Old boys offer several explanations for this. “I was not close to all teachers. I invited the teacher I was close to,” a few tell me. Teachers, however, do not use measuring scales and differentiate students. In my experience, even those teachers who played favourites at school, consider every student “close”. In fact, the naughty boys who were shouted at the most, are the ones more fondly remembered by teachers.

Wedding invite is not the issue. If you don’t wish to invite somebody for your wedding, that’s your personal decision. In any case, all of us miss somebody or the other on such occasions.

The broader and real question is why we do not bother to write even one letter to any school teacher, after a few years of our leaving school. We often remember our teachers but we do not let them know that they are in our thoughts. It will take us less than an hour in a year, to light up the life of a teacher. If so, why not make the effort by posting a letter, sending an e-mail, calling up, or surprising a teacher with a visit?

A few old boys do contact oft-forgotten teachers, and not just the ‘star’ ones. These are exceptions, and exceptional. But why should they be exceptions? Why not make ‘keeping in touch with teachers’ the general rule, or as we often love to say, a Loyola tradition?

After that invite round of 2003, Vivek handed me the address list he had compiled from the school’s records, I keyed it in, and Abishek V (2001) uploaded it on the old boys’ association’s website. And something happened.

Mr V, one of my batchmates, used the address list to send wedding invites. He doubted whether teachers remembered him. So, along with the invite for the reception in Trivandrum, he sent a one-page letter explaining where he was, and how he was grateful to his Loyola teachers. On groom’s day, outside the reception hall, there was a battalion of teachers. As they strode into the hall and blessed him, it was difficult to say who was more happy¬† — the old boy, his parents, his teachers, or other invitees.

In the coming weeks, I’ll try to get Loyola teachers’ addresses again, and upload them here at loyolites.com. (Update: Teacher addresses uploaded.) Please contact at least one teacher, preferably someone you haven’t seen or heard for years.

This September 5, let us play the game and watch the teachers win.