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Each year at midyears, a new crop of Harvard men are taken into the Alumni fold. For no matter what happens after that date members of the Freshman class who pass their first undergraduate exam-hurdle are identified with the most far-flung and cosmopolitan association of college alumni in the world. It is very typical of the Harvard system to class a man as part of Harvard, as of that controversial genus harvardi viri, long before the awarding of the degree. It is typical of the alumni setup at Harvard, which is, in every way, mature, highly sober and reflects the conservatism of the alma mater.
But this tie is purely nominal during the years spent at the University. Normally each undergraduate sees and hears very little of what the alumni groups do until immediately after graduation when the Harvard Club near or in his home town approaches him with its program and opportunities. These clubs, 125 of them, spread out over the earth embracing Harvard alumni in the United States and Europe, as well as those in the far east. In this country, the centers of alumni activity are, of course, in Boston and New York, where the Harvard Clubs are heavily endowed, equipped with fine buildings and living quarters and which offer a diverse program for its members.
College Close to Clubs
While each of the local clubs has a different program, there is much in the activities of the Associated Harvard Clubs which shows the sober intent of Alumni activity. Scholarships, worth $22,000 annually, take a great share of the interest, as do the Harvard book prizes, awards of books by Harvard men or staff members to outstanding secondary school students across the country. The book prizes also put the University in direct contact with secondary school students allowing members of the faculty to seek out and watch the progress of prospective Freshmen. Other club activities show even more the serious nature of the work of the alumni. Little of the rollicking comradery of the usual "old-grad" gathering is present at the meetings of Harvard Clubs. Discussion, symposia and lectures dealing with topics of current interest take the major share of each club's time. Currently of great interest is General Education with international problems a perennial high contender.
In the year immediately following graduation, men have little time for alumni activities. Careers are in the making and the psychological impetus of class anniversaries is not yet felt. A recent study of eight classes of Harvard men offers an insight into the occupations and interests of the average group of the alumni in business and the professions.
Law Predominant Career
Over 60 percent of the graduates turned toward the professions, with law showing the greatest attraction. The legally-minded made up close to 20 percent of Harvard's graduates during this period (classes of 1880, '81, '94, '95, 1912, '24, '25), with medicine, secondary-school teaching, college teaching, literature and the ministry following in irder. About eight percent of each class became doctors, while, at the other extreme, literary pursuits claimed but 3 percent. In business, over one-third of those connected with business were concerned with financial work, while trade and production followed in very close order. Production men, drawn mostly from Harvard's engineering school, make up 9 percent of the College's graduates, while those men who take positions in trade and commerce come to almost the same figure.
It was noted in this study that prominence within these fields was not uniform. The greatest percentage of Harvard men who achieved prominence did so in law, while the medical field had a surprisingly low ratio or prominence. These figures were taken from trade manuals and journals and tended to disprove many of the standing notions about interests of the Harvard student. As an interesting sidelight on the background of Harvard men, it was computed that, while a greater percentage of public school graduates did honor work in college, this situation was reversed in life, where even a greater percentage of private school men achieved note, caused in part by family positions and contacts. Totally, some 20 percent of each class attained some prominence within each field (prominence being defined as inclusion in the professional yearbook. or "Who's Who"), while men with honor degrees achieved high places within the professions twice as readily as did non-honors men. As a final commentary, the surveyor, John B. Knox, of the Sociology Department, determined that the three best criteria for prominence were 1) graduation with honors, 2) literary achievement while in college, 3) executive accomplishment while in Cambridge as an undergraduate. Athletes were somewhat discriminated against by the Knox findings, which placed them low in the non-prominent areas in many fields, and found them nearly absent from the ranks of the professions.
Strengthening of Ties
While taking their place in the working society, Harvard men become increasingly aware of permanent ties with the University. Perhaps the most routine of all alumni functions, or at least the function that brings the College into the minds of its graduates with the greatest frequency, is that of fundraising. Individually, alumni of the University have endowed Harvard with a great percentage of the 200 million dollars that form the capital backbone of the institution. But where these individual gifts come as a matter of individual, unorganized devotion, a large segment of the funds of the University are channeled through the Harvard Fund, a thoroughly organized structure encouraging alumni support. The fund has as its chief interest the subscription of unrestricted funds for use by the University wherever current needs seem to call for it. Over 31,000 alumni have contributed about three million dollars in the 21-year history of the fund.
Commencement Central Gathering
As each class nears its climactic celebration twenty-five years after graduation, a more mature interest in Harvard affairs becomes evident. Unlike many colleges which regard alumni interest as nuisance irritation, Harvard has always encouraged the co-operation of its alumni, even to the extent of including an organized group of them among the governing boards of the College. The Board of Overseers, which, along with the Corporation, makes up the dual-directorate of the University, is composed of alumni elected from a slate prepared by a committee of the Alumni Association. This association is the more formal of the alumni organizations, concerning itself with the election of Overseers and alumni officers, as well as with the planning of Commencement and Class Day exercises. Harvard's Commencements are more than merely the awarding of degrees. The ceremony is the gathering of the clan from all parts of the world complete with fifth, tenth and twenty-fifth reunions, the regular meeting of the Alumni Association and all the workings of an integral part of the Harvard picture. More than half of the men who graduate at any commencement can be expected at one of the reunions; more than 75 percent can be expected to take part in alumni activities.
Just where the roots of this loyalty lie is hard to ascertain. The attachment is complex, involving personal devotion to classmates and faculty members, abetted by the gratitude demonstrated by beneficiaries of Harvard scholarships, and seasoned with satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) over the job that Harvard is doing and the position it commands in the scholastic community. College anywhere is an experience of youth that is cherished in the memory the majority and buried away by the hypersensitive few. But memories of attendance at Harvard are enriched by the intellectual imprint of such greats as Charles Townsend Copeland, Barrett Wendell, Santayana and others. Therein lies a great measure of lasting loyalty. Pure nostalgia often plays a part in bringing men back to Cambridge and thus exposing them to the initial taste of alumni activity. But perhaps the strongest drive among the forces behind the alumni is that of pride in an outstanding and continuing educational tradition, and civic pride in the exploits of University officials who not only maintain this tradition but contribute much to the national seene in the sciences, literature and even politics. The ascendancy of President Conant to national stature brought a parallel surge of interest in alumni affairs. A strong hand in Cambridge means stronger ties between the capital of Harvard interest and the 82,000 graduates spread all over the world.
With alumni interest on the increase, it is necessary to evaluate the kind of pressure this body will bring to bear on University policy. Since graduates form an attachment to the College as it was during their own undergraduate days, it is rather hard for them as individuals, or as a group, to swallow and great change in the physical layout or academic philosophy at Harvard. There exists even today a certain lack of enthusiasm among older alumni for the House plan (which has not broken down class unity as was buce feared) and another change, the removal of the Dana-Palmer House in order to clear ground for the Lamont Undergraduate Library created a commotion that forced the authorities to alter their plans. But if the Alumni are a conservative force, they are also loath to exert active pressure on College officials. The word of the President or the Provost is generally, if not always, accepted as most authoritative by the hardest-bitten grad.
As the ranks are filled by Harvard's diverse post-war recruits, the alumni will expand into even greater areas geographically and socially. The activities will mirror the serious devotion of men who have embodied about their own alms mater respect and concern for high standards in education. The depth and scope of this interest, which goes beyond nostalgia and memories, is, perhaps, the true sign of the Harvard man.
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