MPS Alumni Associations: an Untapped Resource for Schools?
Unlike many private schools, only a few MPS high schools brag of active alumni associations that do more than track reunions.
The exceptions include Washington and Marshall.
For instance, at Sunday's graduation, the Marshall High School Alumni Association will award another round of scholarships. It will also, as it does annually, honor a former faculty member, while an outstanding 'alum' of the year will deliver the keynote to this year's graduating seniors.
The association started in 2000 and included charter members George Gonis '75, Michael Ford '75 and Amy Hufnal '78 who remain active today.
What is now Morse-Marshall (sixth through 12 grades) provides the alumni association with an office. In it are photographs of former principals and piles retro gym shirts in Marshall’s traditional colors - Columbia blue and scarlet.
Relaying information about reunions are just a slice of the operation. “The whole concept was, we want to have an alumni association that is not really a memory lane alumni association. The main mission was to be here for the current and future students, to make sure that the great experiences we all had here continued into the future,” Gonis says.
In order to enrich today’s Marshall experience, the alumni association raises money for programs and scholarships, including through its annual $25 membership fee. The group sends out regular newsletters and encourages alums to visit classes and mentor students. Gonis says successful Marshall graduates are "in just about every field you can think of - medicine music, movies, authors, technicians, scientists, engineers, craftsmen, artisans" and he has lists of them.
The association has also created a wall of fame in the school and several showcases that display items dating back to the school's start in the early 1960s.
Ford says the alumni association tracked down as many graduates and faculty as it could about three years ago, to invite them to activities marking Marshall's 50th anniversary. "We celebrated all 50 classes that have graduated from here. There was a dance, and one of the more popular things was that we opened up the school, so people could come back and actually walk the halls and sit in the classes that they had fond memories of,” Ford says.
“And even if high school wasn’t all rosy, they had a teacher who affected them, a coach who affected them, one classmate who spoke to their heart, and therefore the school has some sentimental value and they do care about what happens here,” Gonis adds.
The Marshall grads say they don’t know why more MPS alumni are not more organized and engaged with their alma maters. Ford says, perhaps it has to do with taxes. “The taxes support the schools and 'I already pay too much in taxes.' A lot of people, that’s the way they feel,” Ford says.
Gonis wonders whether changes have turned off some grads. “You get rid of the name of the school, you get rid of their colors and their mascot and a lot of those things have been around for 50,60, 70,100 years. If we didn’t maintain the Marshall traditions here, you could hear the sound of checkbooks closing fast,” Gonis says.
Yet Marshall is different today, from when these alums attended in the 70s. As they note, it’s much smaller – no more graduating classes of nearly a thousand. Ford says smaller means fewer resources and opportunities for students. “That change is one of the main reasons we exist as an association, because we recognize that while we were fortunate at that time, there is really a need among those students who are here today,” Ford says.