For Occidental’s big milestone, a Ferris wheel just won’t cut it

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Author: Sam Byrne

 

Most large organizations have perfected the popular custom of celebrating those anniversaries cleanly divisible by 25. At 125 years old, Occidental deserves both the party and the prestige that come from being a well-established institution of higher education. This excuse for self-promotion comes only four times in a century, so now, with the 25-years-older checkpoint quickly approaching, Occidental should start enticing the older alumni to donate, and not just with the relentless Telefund reminders or letters. The yearlong anniversary celebration, beginning in just over a month, will include such frivolous activities as a carnival and a Ferris wheel. During the course of its anniversary celebration, the college must maintain a primary focus on the generous birthday gifts that will leave a lasting effect after the party ends, and silly festivities just won’t cut it. If done correctly, relying on class reunions, visits to classrooms, and reminders of the “glory days” back in college, the magic number of 125 could help remind alumni of their valued experience as Occidental Students, and pull just hard enough on those heartstrings to persuade the middle-aged graduates to pull out their checkbooks.

Everyone knows how the “anniversary promotion” works: celebrate the past, highlight the present and offer an optimistic projection for the future. No matter how trite or formulaic, the 125-year anniversary plan is foolproof. How can you not applaud a company that’s been successful for longer than a human lifespan?

But if Occidental wants to make serious financial headway from this milestone, it will need to get more serious about its plans. From this year’s celebration the college hopes to raise several million dollars, but this goal will remain nothing more than a hope until the Alumni Association targets the proper alumni – those far enough out to have the resources to give, but within a reasonable range that they’ll be able to relate to the modern Occidental College. This year Occidental is counting on an increased participation from the younger graduates, and has set a goal of 47 percent participation for recent grads. But economic prudence dictates that the college focus its efforts on the financially established alums currently hitting their midlife crises and longing to relive their glory days as a 20-something student.

The Alumni Association relies on donations to recruit students from around the country, distribute financial aid widely, equip classrooms with state-of-the-art equipment and attract millions of dollars in foundation grants. This is an overwhelming financial responsibility for alums who just graduated college. The college instead needs to focus on the graduates earning $100,000 a year, not the ones who are likely in debt or living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Besides, focusing on alumni a decade or two out of college – rather than recent graduates – allows the college to capitalize on nostalgia that surfaces midlife. Occidental needs to channel these memories and invite back successful alumni to encourage their retrospection. Once this happens, the money that would have otherwise gone towards that midlife crisis motorcycle may end up helping to fund the remodeling of Johnson Hall.

The college has done a commendable job launching the “Oxy125” project and spreading awareness of the big upcoming birthday. The campaign targets all alumni, which is a decent start at attracting potential “gift givers.” But Oxy125 has issues of its own: festivities will kick off in April with, of all things, an 1887-style carnival complete with games, food, strolling singers and a rumored Ferris wheel. Sadly, it will take a little more than some cotton candy and a pony ride to demonstrate that the college deserves donations. A carnival might be a fun and appropriate idea for a child’s birthday party. But the goal of Occidental’s celebration should be to attract the successful middle-aged alums – not the demographic that will be impressed by a carnival. Many of our successful alumni could probably testify that an idea pitched with a Ferris wheel isn’t an idea to be emulated. The college needs to remind graduates of their college years, not their childhood, while remaining focused on proving Occidental to be a serious academic institution worthy of financial support.   

Only when the administration gets serious about how it celebrates this milestone will the alumni capable of making sizable donations begin to make those outlays. Occidental needs to start thinking more deeply about the kinds of things that actually promote the quality of the institution, not just its ability to re-create the late nineteenth century.

 

Sam Byrne is an undeclared sophomore. She can be reached at sbyrne@oxy.edu.

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