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A Rich Return on Investment
About a decade ago I was strolling along a Connecticut beach on the Long Island Sound with David Kelsey, Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School. At the time, I was seven or eight years out of HDS and immersed in a strategy consulting career that occupied most of my time and energy.
While my career and my life were satisfying, I nevertheless found myself yearning for the types of substance and stimulation that characterized my years at HDS: the deep probing into meaning-making, the rich diversity of perspectives, the challenging intellectual debates, and the camaraderie of soulful peers who were likewise invested in their authentic searches for understanding.
For some reason, being in David’s company opened a Pandora’s Box of complaints.
Perhaps it was the fact that he was in the divinity school world—but not of Harvard—that made him the perfect audience for my airing of grievances. I complained about the absence of HDS in my life, about the lack of avenues back to the school once I’d entered “real life,” about how much I needed to be able to plug back into the soulfulness of HDS now that I was in the trenches of adult life, but that there were few ready-made connectors that had direct relevance to me as a non-academic or non-ministerial alumni/ ae.
I’m sure that the sentiments I expressed that day are not unique among the HDS alumni/ae body, and that a lot of HDS alumni/ae also crave more connection with the School, more access to the substance of its offerings, and more community with their fellow graduates.
I’m also sure that alumni/ae who want these connections, but who have not established them in their post-HDS life, may feel at a bit of a loss for how to generate connections and to engage more frequently and fully with the HDS community. I certainly did.
In many ways, my conversation with David was a turning point for my connection to HDS and its alumni/ae. In the months that followed, I found myself replaying the conversation in my own mind and continually feeling that my accusative attitude toward HDS was untenable.
Ultimately, I concluded, it was my responsibility to reach out to HDS and my fellow alumni/ae if I valued a connection to them. I really didn’t have a right to whine about the void I felt if I wasn’t personally trying to fill it, and if I wasn’t at least taking advantage of the opportunities for connection that the school already had in place.
My re-engagement with HDS started by volunteering to write a book review for the Bulletin. I then decided to fly back to Cambridge for my 10th-year reunion at the Alumni/ae Dinner during Alumni/ae Day. These simple gestures led me to express an interest in joining the Alumni/ae Council, on which I’ve now served for the past six years as a member, the treasurer, the vice president, and now the president.
If I were in the ministry, I might tell you that these years of reconnecting to HDS have provided my life with an enrichment that comes from fellowshipping with such a soulful community. If I were an academic, I’d probably talk about the personal stimulation I’ve gained by collaborating with a rigorous group of intellectually challenging peers.
But as a business person, I can just jump to the bottom line and tell you that my investments in reconnecting to HDS have yielded a rich ROI. The return on investment of my time and energy have provided me with a more richly dimensionalized life, a more diverse group of peers who continually challenge and inspire me, and context that promises to grow in its relevance and impact for the rest of my life.
Our Alumni/ae Association Mission Statement begins by saying, “The Association’s mission shall be to connect alumni and alumnae with each other and with the School in a mutually helpful and reinforcing community that enhances the lives of its members and supports them in their ongoing search for meaning, mission, and value. . . .” This is precisely what the association is redoubling its effort to do right now. But it will only be effective if you, the HDS alumni/ae yourselves, are willing to actively engage in our community and invest in our future potency.
As we enter the new administrative term of the Alumni/ae Association, our one-word strategy for the term is “implement.”
We have a great mission statement, a fantastic group of volunteers on the council, and a highly charged and highly supportive School administration. It’s now up to us—all of us—to make the most of this “perfect storm” of opportunity.
There is a great convergence of factors that are all overlapping to enable the alumni/ae of Harvard Divinity School to empower themselves and to create the kind of community of connection and resource most of us crave.
While the council and the administration are working on key areas of implementation to improve our community, we cannot do it all without your help. As a starter, let me offer up three simple actions you can take that are low effort but high impact for our community.
First, please send us your personal contact information, especially your email address. You can also log onto www.post.harvard.edu and update your profile.
Second, send your thoughts on the most meaningful ways for our community to build itself to email@example.com. Please include specific actions or activities that would motivate you to engage, enhance your life, and that you would be willing to work on launching or improving.
Third, engage in the existing connection opportunities so that they grow in richness and so that you can help us make them better.
I sincerely hope that you will take it upon yourself to personally engage in the building of our community and in making the kinds of personal investments that will ultimately yield meaningful ROI’s for yourself and for future generations of alumni/ae.