Director's Desk • Have you thawed yet?
By Michael Van Denend '78

Mike Van Denend
Michael Van Denend
Executive Director, Calvin Alumni Association

There’s a tried-and-true adage among alumni directors that cuts across type of college or university: Alumni freeze their view of their alma mater from the time they graduated.

Regardless what the alumni association does to inform graduates of new developments at the school, when alumni think about college, they hark back to the way things were when they walked down that center aisle, diploma in hand.

This phenomenon presents a difficult problem for colleges. While any institution worth its tuition is constantly attracting outstanding new professors and improving campus services, some alumni don’t picture those ongoing positive changes and continue to assume that the same people and campus atmosphere — even down to the architecture — exist as when they graduated. Although these alums themselves have changed, they don’t credit their college with the same progression.

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Thus, the college that alumni experienced 20, 25 or 30 years ago is assumed to be present today. What’s the cure for this deep freeze in college memories?

There’s only one remedy that seems to do the trick: Coming back to campus.

In a recent study of how major constituencies view Calvin, far and away the most impressed group was parents of current Calvin students. Calvin parents, even though they are paying tuition bills and deserve to be the fussiest of anyone in the college community, ranked Calvin in the upper 90 percentile in every category. While alumni were generally very positive about the college, parents wrote the most insightful and laudatory comments.

That’s because parents are the most informed about the Calvin College of today. They have researched college choices with their children and, having selected Calvin, they not only read much about the school but also visit it at least two times a year. They have been in classrooms, chapel services, residence halls, dining rooms and administrative offices. They’ve heard lectures, cheered teams, asked President Byker questions and experienced intentional Christian community.

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Calvin graduates ought to give current parents a run for the “most informed” prize, because if that happened, the same confidence parents have in the college would also take root in alumni. That means alumni need to “thaw” their views of their alma mater, done best by making a campus visit.

I observe this every Passport session. Passport is the summer program — sponsored by Calvin’s student life division — that allows incoming students and their parents a couple of days to really get acquainted with the college. Non-alumni parents, virtually to a person, rave about Calvin. They wonder why they’ve never before heard about this amazing place of faith and learning. Alumni parents, on the other hand, often seem stunned over how much better the college has become since they attended. They admit that, yes, they should have assumed Calvin would be progressing in ways similar to the other colleges they had visited, but for some reason it was “Calvin past” that was competing with the “today” of other campuses.

What these alumni parents needed — and got, with a number of campus visits — was a good thawing out.

We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of Spark magazine this year. While we are proud of the publication and dedicated to filling each issue with many pages of current Calvin news, it remains true that the best way to know the Calvin of today is to spend time on campus. And there are many opportunities: Homecoming, class reunions, Midsummer, concerts, lectures, worship services, conferences, athletic events. If you would like the alumni office to prepare an itinerary for you with classroom visits and talks with faculty and administrators, we’ll be happy to oblige.

May the thaw begin!