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No substitute for the cafetorium

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:55 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 28, 2015 10:15 a.m. CDT

Editor’s Note: This week’s “Trending” is a best-of edition was originally published in the May 29, 2014 edition of the Newton Daily News.

I don’t think I’ve quite hit the threshold in life that qualifies me to use the saying “in my day insert walking up hill, both ways shoeless story here.” But at 28 years of age, I have already seen monumental changes in how our communities interact.

While photographing graduations and alumni get-togethers this season, I struggled to find a person who didn’t remark on the lack of returning graduates. Last week’s Colfax-Mingo Alumni Banquet is a good example. The official attendance tallies are not yet in, but by observation it appears 220 to 250 Tigerhawks made but dinner. Many alumni mentioned the dwindling numbers.

As a Des Moines East High Scarlet, I’ve noticed this trend in my own alumni association. The passion for our community still exists, but those from my class are not attending. This, I believe, is partly due to the virtual class reunion that we see every day through social media.

Gone are the days of curiosity and gossip that went with seeing an old high school flame’s current look or the anticipation to see that friend who moved abroad after graduation. Through Facebook, we already know what to expect. There isn’t as much drama — just the realization that the humor or joy we get out of seeing our classmates’ exploits online waters down the once-a-year meeting.

In gaining a massive online community, it appears we may be losing a sense of congregation. The importance of these events cannot be held to the intrigue into past acquaintances. Alumni events foster school identity and help fund the future through scholarships and school improvement fundraisers. Alumni events are as much about investing in our communities’ directions as they are nostalgia for what once was. The older generations know this, and my generation would do well to learn it.

Facebook could be an avenue to enrich this investment, adding a new element of interactivity and online funding initiatives for our schools. We could then convene at our banquets and reunions to see what physical rewards our online endeavors have brought.

Like your alumni. #EHSAlumnusFOREVER.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@newtondailynews.com

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