Loss of yearbook and Spotlight leaves visual gap in Alumni Office's records

By Tressa Versteeg

The effects of an increasingly paperless world have trickled into almost every facet of life, including how and what people remember. The online world reigns supreme, and networking kings like Facebook and MySpace have been the demise of the yearbook, a former legacy of the physical world. Instead of turning the pages of classmates’ awkward fake-smiles, students now click through online albums of cheesy, arm-in-the-air, self-taken pictures in exotic places or students with sloppy grins and a beer in hand.But for some students, this tradeoff leaves questions of how they will preserve their college experiences in hardcopy.

“Facebook is all well and good for the moment, but I don’t imagine it will bring back any happy memories when I’m 60,” Molly Brookfield ’09 said. “The yearbook was a good way to store memories about my time at Mac.” Brookfield is one of the students who had participated on the yearbook staff the past few years.

The yearbook, called The Mac, returned to the printing-press in 2006 and 2007. Its first appearance since it dissolved in 1968 was in 2006. This year, the yearbook disbanded in part due to key student organizers who graduated or studied abroad, but also because of its lack of popularity. Macalester College Student Government was also left with a $15,000 bill the yearbook staff was unable to front after sales were less than expected.

“There was so little enthusiasm for the yearbook this past year, I think it discouraged a lot of us to continue with it,” Brookfield said.

The absence of The Mac and the Spotlight will also make the job of the Alumni Office more difficult, said Gabrielle Lawrence, director of alumni relations.

However, despite its loss, the Alumni Office is able to keep track of alumni in different, less visual ways.

Adapting to the online-world, it now uses an online directory. The directory is complete with names and other information, such as location and profession, which are entered by alumni and can be accessed by other alumni. Lawrence said that the online directory is substantially full and that many use it to locate and reunite with former classmates and to establish professional connections. However, not all alumni have entered their information into the online directory.

Lawrence said some alumni still use their Spotlight books, such as Alumni Board President Jill Lenhardt ’95, to contact former classmates, because it includes the name and photograph of each student in a given class. Lawrence also mentioned that one of major ways the Alumni Office uses the yearbook is for photos for class reunions, because every student is pictured.

“I don’t know how we are going to do it,” she said, regarding organizing the reunions and finding photographs of every student of the 2011 class.

As Larence flipped through the 1958 Spotlight, she pointed out its significance as a historical tool. Through the pictures and advertisements, she felt people could learn a lot about the Macalester campus as well as the surrounding community, seeing the stores that once occupied Grand and Snelling.

The Spotlight still has usefulness for some current students.

“I don’t need a yearbook,” Hillary Mohaupt ’08 said, about remembering Macalester and classmates. “But it would have been nice to have a Spotlight.”

While Facebook has taken over many students’ lives, some students have resisted the pressures and deal with the hurdles of how to keep track of and keep in-touch with present and former students.

“I think Facebook is kind of weird. It reminds me of those personal ads people put out,” Libby Tollefson ’11 said. ” I would rather talk to someone to get to know them. That seems like a much more genuine way to do it.”

However, Lawrence feels the yearbook is vital to keeping track of the college’s past.

“The yearbook is such an important part of our history. It’s a real loss to the alumni office and the whole school,” she said. “You can better understand what it was like on campus at that time. What the issues were, to see similarities across generations. I really mourn the loss.