Alumni and the Growth of Our School

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School  

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of young alumni from across the different departments of the Colin Powell School. I wanted to pull them together to discuss recent developments at the school - programs we have been building, our successes and our challenges. It was a gathering that in part advanced one of my early goals as dean of the school: to hold regular consultations with concerned alumni, share information, and ask them to think with me about the development of our school, and how they can help.

I wanted, first off, to remind the assembled friends of the great mission our school’s founding ushered in. Budget shortfalls have made for some stiff headwinds since that May day in 2013, but it remains true that founding and developing the Colin Powell School provided the chance to imagine the very best kind of education for our students—an education that deeply engages them in issues that will shape their lives and prepares them for service in leadership positions.  I wanted to remind them that the dreams and aspirations of current students are no different than those that drew generations to CCNY over the decades. I wanted to excite them with the possibility that each year we will build something new to burnish the legacy of their alma mater.  And I wanted emphatically to say how important they would be in that process.

I set out to tell them about our activities and programs, because you can’t ask people to lend a hand with your work without making a place for them in that work.  And I was absolutely asking them to help.

Alumni should be key partners in building out the vision of a school.  They carry the school’s name into the workforce, and help shepherd its reputation in the broader society. Beyond the campus, alumni networks are professional as well as social, and each aspect lies rooted in both memory and aspiration: the memory of college as a transformational experience, and the aspiration to build on what they found on campus, and make it more vibrant for a new generation. Alumni networks, like colleges and families,  thrive in the act of renewing themselves.

We have a vision for our alumni.  We anticipate that many will need our help over the first several years.  They will need letters of recommendation, help accessing transcripts, and a way into a professional network of other Colin Powell School graduates.  In those years, we may ask them to help our students in practice interviews, or perhaps speak on a panel describing their transition into the workforce.  As time passes, our alumni will be in position to offer internships to our students, and eventually to hire graduates or direct them to other professional opportunities. Eventually, we hope Colin Powell School graduates will repay our investment in them with donations to support future generations.  

We also, however, need to nurture the outwardly-looking aspect of our alumni networks. I asked the group to help us build a vibrant professional network of Colin Powell School alumni, willing to help recent graduates get into the workplace, able to provide internship placements and mentoring, proud to associate themselves with our school and its mission.  I asked them to tell former classmates about our work and invite them to get in touch. I enjoined them, In their workplace, to seek out other Colin Powell School graduates, and  lookout for those that will join them in the future. I wanted to draw them into a vision of an alumni network that was deeply informed about and involved in the life of the school, dedicated to serving the needs of our campus and, in the process, elevating what it means to be a Colin Powell School alumnus.

Finally, I wanted to remind our alumni, from across the generations, that if they graduated with a degree in any social science programs or departments (political science, psychology, economics and business, anthropology, International studies, sociology or Latin American and Latino Studies) they are Colin Powell School alumni.  Growing a school means both leaning forward to anticipate its future and reaching back to gather up its past.  As we’ve been saying to social science alumni for three years now: you are the Colin Powell School.

I left the evening feeling that we made a good start, and that if nostalgia and good society perhaps provide the bedrock of alumni affections, it’s my duty to nurture our networks with periodic meetings designed to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how they can help.  We’ll be holding more of these alumni meetings in the months and years to come.  I hope when your invitation comes, you’ll answer my call.

On Graduation

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

by Vince Boudreau, Dean, Colin Powell School

If you’ve never been to a CCNY graduation, you should come. All graduations are joyous events; all graduations affect transitions between years of preparation and a world rife with new possibilities.  And, I’ll admit that it’s been years since I’ve attended a graduation that did not take place on a CUNY campus—but I still think our graduations are different.

I think they’re different because they’re filled with young people rewriting their entire family history.  When you wander around after a Colin Powell School graduation ceremony, you’re surrounded by parents who’ve sent sons and daughters into a world they didn’t understand and couldn’t explain to their children.  For many it may feel like a huge gamble: will their children grow unfamiliar to them, alienated from home and culture? Will the embrace of an education build walls, or create ladders? Will a child’s opportunity be a family’s loss? Despite the risks and doubts, or perhaps because of them, students and families arrive at graduation day as to a new continent they never thought they’d reach.  The air is spiced with their joy.

I think they’re different, too, because CCNY is so different.  Our students carry within themselves the memories of nagging doubt of being somehow the odd person out on a college campus.  Worries about belonging hover close at hand: the gnawing fear that somehow this new life, tantalizingly close, was not actually meant for them, that some mistake had been made, somewhere along the line, and at any moment, they might be discovered to be an imposter.  In our campus, they find a place where that doubt fades because everybody belongs, where every experience or perspective is given the respect of a full consideration, where student grow into the life of the mind, rather than inheriting it as a birthright. They create community and a sense of place from people who yearn for our specific community, in our particular place.

And by graduation day, most of our students are keenly aware that they are going into a world that will not be the same as the one they inhabited at CCNY.  The world of our campus, in all its breadth and multifaceted-ness, is still a dawning promise, a world of the future. But graduates also know that they are marked by their time together, and so they leave with a keen awareness of themselves—I think—as emissaries of that better place. At the Colin Powell School (but elsewhere at CCNY) we are explicit about these matters, about the usefulness of building a model for how to live that will be a training ground and a touchstone for the rest of life.

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about how public higher education is supported in these times: how it is valued, regarded, funded, and evaluated. Graduation, every year, makes me think our metrics, most of the time, are all wrong. Our students fill the world each year with something unique: with testimony to the continuing currency of democracy’s promise to all of its citizens, a promise not just about the prospects of opportunity and mobility, but about the currency of that success: that it will be authentic to a citizen’s lived experience and perspective. The American dream doesn’t require families to lose their children to another world.  The American dream makes room for us all, just as we are.

It’s frustrating that those defunding public higher education seem nowhere to grasp the enormity of what might be lost when you choke off places like CCNY. We write about it all the time, often in terms of changing class sizes, or denuded infrastructure, or the shifting balance between full-time and adjunct instruction. But it must also be accounted for in terms of a particular disregard for the specific civic contribution one makes in creating and nurturing a place devoted to everyone’s future. For if the loss of funds impacts our campus and its works, the realization of that disregard cuts more deeply.  Our student carry it around with them, seeing it in every broken thing deemed good enough for them. They understand it in the difference between the world they would make together, and the world they will enter when they leave campus, and with that understanding and mixed into their joy, there is also a kind of defiance, and a commitment to succeed.  And that, too, makes our graduations unique.

If you’ve never been to a CCNY graduation, you should most definitely come.