Best Feat Forward

In Class Notes, you can shout your accomplishments and show your humanity.

May/June 1998

Reading time min

The letter grabbed my attention from its opening line: "I am frightened of Class Notes," wrote Rudy Delson, '97.

Frightened? In my years of reading – and now editing – Class Notes, fear has never been much of a factor. In fact, now that I have begun reading through all of Class Notes in one sitting (got an hour or two to spare?), I find their rhythm strangely soothing. Here, laid out before you in reverse order, is the arc of life – from retirement to career accomplishments to second marriage to kids to first marriage to grad school to first job.

So why does Rudy Delson find Class Notes a "horrible institution"? He worries that, at least for the most recent grads, they're merely a compilation of accolades and achievements. "Here is all the boasting we were too compassionate and too modest to engage in when we actually knew each other at Stanford," he writes. The upshot, he says, is that "Class Notes don't convey any humanity or allow for any empathy."

I put his critique on a corner of my desk and, every so often, I'd reread it. Finally, I wrote back and asked him to trim it a bit so we could run it in our Letters column, which he did. Still, I carried Rudy's original offering in my briefcase for a few weeks.

Why was it bothering me so much? I began to wonder if there was some merit to his concerns. What if Class Notes, designed to connect alumni to each other and to the University, were, perversely, engendering division? Consider the '93 column in the last issue, March/April. Guest columnist Joel Stein, tongue planted partly in cheek, got right to the point: "It's not to find out how your friends are doing. You know how your friends are doing. No, the reason you immediately flip to this page upon receiving this publication is to see how you stack up. So I'm going to tell you who to focus your jealousy on, who to turn into little Class of '93 voodoo dolls."

A few weeks later, as I was preparing this column, I came across the back-page essay in the March issue of Smithsonian. There, Bob Seidenstein wrote about how reading his class notes made him feel like an underachiever. "What's needed," Seidenstein wrote, "are class notes for the rest of us. Just because we happen to be mired in mediocrity does not mean our lives aren't worth mentioning, too." He imagines more, well, ordinary notes: After hanging in there for almost four months, Janey Jones, '68, finally finished Ulysses. She tries to read a book a month but is often interrupted in the evening by junk phone calls.

Still troubled, I turned to the experts – our 84 hardworking volunteers who write the columns, and Barbara Bennigson, the primary editor of Class Notes. Barbara recalls meeting an alum who works as a carpenter. She urged him to drop a line to his class correspondent. "Are you kidding?" he said. "The implication," says Barbara, "was 'I'm just a carpenter.' "

Several correspondents acknowledge they pay close attention to the tone of their columns. Susan Inge, '88, says she tries to start with "less typical news" so that classmates won't conclude the magazine is interested in them only "if they are running a company or having children." Karen Springen, '83, reminds me that many items come from newspaper clips or press releases, so readers should not assume self-promotion.

All this was on my mind when I sat down to proof Class Notes for this issue. Sure, I found plenty of items trumpeting career moves, civic honors, small personal triumphs. And why not? That's the stuff of life for most of us.

But I also found slices of humanity. Fred Adams, '21, now 100 and still answering his own phone, is living in Sacramento and "doing just fine." Janet O'Hara Ball, '58, won the Fourth of July jitterbug contest in Torrey, Utah. Marshall Kilduff, '71, had a shot at winning $100,000 in a soft-drink contest by kicking a 45-yard field goal at the Stanford-UCLA football game last fall. His effort fell "far short of the mark" – and he took home 10 cases of Dr Pepper as a consolation prize. And then there was David Antonuccio, '75, who wrote a year ago that, after trying to get pregnant for the past seven years, his wife and he were looking for a woman to serve as their surrogate.

To these alums, Class Notes are more than just snippets from a résumé. Their squibs are a reminder that the notes are only as good – as human, as revealing – as the material you provide. So drop us a line. As Rudy Delson did. Urging tenderness and honesty, he ends his letter with an item for the Class of '97 column: Rudy Delson writes when he can, and combats despair with merriment.

You can send e-mail to Bob at

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