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in knots over Alumni Notes. By Stephanie Williams
am an ambitious, competitive, jealous person, which must be why I am obsessed
with the Alumni Notes that appear in the back of the Gazette. Every
month, I quickly and surreptitiously flip to the section, as if I were
about to peek at porn instead of a list of alumni activities. The comparison
is apt, because they get me hot under the collar and very bothered.
let me explain. I use the Notes as a status report telling me what I need
to accomplish if I want to keep up with the Joneses. The fact that I dont
know most of the people who submit these Notes doesnt make a whit
of difference. Its a cross-section of people I can compare myself
to; were bound together in a tenuous but very real way by our Ivy
League education. I try to get the most accurate comparison possible by
focusing almost exclusively on Notes from fellow 1992 grads.
Reading the Notes used to be a casual pastime,
but now that my classmates and I are at the age that were actually
accomplishing things, its become an intense one, with complex
motives and parameters. I completely ignore the vast bulk of the Notes,
the ones that feature indistinguishable reports about so-and-sos
latest promotion at blah-de-blah law firm/investment bank/consulting company.
I got over my Wharton envy long ago. Besides, these are achievements youd
expect from a Penn gradakin to Scottie Pippin doing a lay-up.
Theyre uninspiring. Unworthy of envy.
Outrageously successful classmates dont
get to me either. Actually, these are people who dont usually even
appear in the Notes because they dont need to; the word is
already out on what theyre doing. I have a built-in rationalization
whenever I see Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer C92 in Vogue,
or Melissa Rivers C92 on E!, or Tennessee Congressman Harold
Ford Jr. C92 in The New York Times Magazine.
As offspring of well-known people, they had a head start.
Then I come to the 5 percent or so of Notes
that describe lives that Id like to be leading. Like a certain
guy I made a drunken pass at freshman year in the Quad. I got indigestion
when I read that hed just published a novel. It reminded me what
a fool I made of myself way back when. It made me wonder why I hadnt
spent my college years in sober reflection, questing for knowledge as
hed obviously donerather than hoisting cans of Meister Brau.
Most of all, it made me feel as if hed "stolen" my note.
Writing books is what Im supposed to be doing. (Actually,
reading about any alum whos published a book hurts meunless
they graduated before, say, 1990in which case, I find them inspiring.)
I also have mini-identity crises when I read
Notes about people whove chosen the road not takenwhove
packed up and moved to Australia or become something quirky, like an inventor.
Probably by nature, these Notes are few and far between: People who go
their own way arent concerned about what people think, so why would
they care to write in? (I cant imagine my friend Sonia Stoszek
C92 taking time out from doing her epidemiological study in
Cairo to write to the Gazette.) As my pal Marilyn Spiegel C92
puts it, "Id just love to see someone write in and say, Screw
corporate culture, Im a carpenter in Vermont. But I cant
see it happening." Me neither.
Im ashamed to say that occasionally, even
sappy Notes about domestic bliss can get me all tied up in knots, especially
if they feature an old crush or mention of a wedding ceremony bulging
with Penn people. The latter make me feel sad about how few classmates
I keep in touch with, until I come to my senses and realize that I have
no desire to hear "The Red and the Blue" heartily sung at my
wedding (like one over-enthusiastic Note-writer). Its horrible,
but marriage announcements also make me feel unworthy. "Just living
together" is perfectly satisfactory to me, but it isnt
quite up to snuff, Note-wise. What would I write? "Stephanie Williams
C92 lives with her boyfriend, FSU grad Laurin Smith (a computer
consultant), in Brooklyn"? Boring. "They watch the Seminoles
on their 61-inch TV"? Repulsive.
Some people do write Notes that are this
self-indulgentand inspire the scorn of Note-readers everywhere.
My friend Andy Burrows C92 (who, incidentally, says
hed like to see the Notes turned into a personals column) says hes
disgusted by a certain girl from his freshman dorm. "She had an annoying
personality to begin with, and now shes always popping up with a
description of how happy she is: the latest age of her baby, the degrees
of her husband," he says. "Ugh!"
Which brings up the dark side of my Notes obsession.
Balancing out my fierce envy is an equally robust sense of superiority
I feel while getting my bimonthly fix. It made my week to read that
a certain goody-two-shoes, who raised her hand far too often in English
Lit classes, is now writing for a sleazy mens magazine. I also feel
glee when I read about strangers who are gloating over menial-sounding
jobs, especially when they discuss themselves in awestruck tones. It gives
me a boost to know Im way cooler than they are.
As some would argue in reference to porn, there
is a socially redeeming side to my twisted, masochistic, sadistic, rude
obsession. Checking out these brief resumes of Penn overachievers makes
me reevaluate what Im doing, how Im doing at it, and why.
My friend Adam Fawer W92 says he checks the Notes to see
what random things he could have accomplished by nowbecome
a doctor, started some company, had three kidsif he hadnt
chosen to go to Stanford Business School instead. (He calls it "exploring
parallel-universe doppelgangers." Whatever.)
But I do the same thing. Sometimes, I realize
how happy I am to be what I am. Sometimes, I have a fit of jealousy that
reminds me to challenge myself to do something Note-worthy. If and when
the day comes when I attain that goal and write that blasted book, you
may well hear about itwhether you want
to or not.
Stephanie Williams C92, a Brooklyn-based
freelance writer, admits that she wrote
this article merely to let everyone know that she writes for New York
magazine and has contributed to more than a dozen other publications,
including SmartMoney and Mens Health.
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1999 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 8/23/99