The Last Page

A Mash Note for Class Notes

By Melissa Walker '99

Promotions, travels, weddings, babies — Class Notes are our very own Page Six or US Weekly, albeit a little more down-to-earth, most of the time.

Lately, however, in this wave of digital-media-killed-the-print-stars panic, some journalists have argued that Class Notes are irrelevant in the age of Facebook. Several schools — like the University of California at Los Angeles — have eliminated Class Notes from their alumni magazines’ printed pages entirely, choosing to post student updates online in favor of more editorial space in the book. Of course, UCLA does have over 25,000 undergrads, so I imagine that freed up quite a bit of room.

In any case, the reasons for this devaluing of Class Notes are clear. If we’re keeping track of each other’s status updates online, we presumably already know all about the wedding, down to what music people danced to and whether the cake was any good. We see informal updates about which TV shows our classmates watched last night, who got delayed at JFK, and what each other’s cubemates’ annoying habits are. We’re so plugged in, it’s a little ridiculous.

At least, I am. In my daily life as a magazine writer and author of teen books, I am a social networking fiend. I facebook, I myspace, I twitter. And I do it all so often that I feel justified in using those site names as verbs. I know way too much about what my classmates’ spouses and babies and most recent vacations look like — after all, I can see hundreds of photos of them anytime I feel like procrastinating. And if I want to remember the details of an incident on the seventh floor of Jewett from, say, 1996, I’m just a few keystrokes away from several people, former hallmates, who can help me recall it all. The online world is certainly handy — and fast. 

Despite my virtual proclivities, though, I still believe in Class Notes. The informal nature of social networking creates a fantastically shallow wave of information that changes every second — every millisecond, really, and doesn’t give much opportunity for attention and rumination. Reading an update of one or two sentences that stands alone isn’t the same as absorbing a bigger-picture “life update” in the context of the rest of your class. We turn to Class Notes for the meaty stuff — the big news from our classmates written and edited into a coherent column, a full picture. In a world where information flies at us constantly at 100 miles per hour, the editorial filter of Class Notes that focuses on what’s truly important in our classmates’ lives is very, very welcome.

In addition, there’s a certain distance that the Class Notes section allows. On social networking sites, you need to “friend” or “follow” the people you want to keep up with in order to get their full news… and that means letting them know you’re watching their lives, at least virtually. But in reading print — perhaps about an ex-boyfriend’s marriage or an old rival’s new job — there’s a safe zone. It’s a way to passively learn things about your former classmates without re-entering their lives. And you can also keep track of people you didn’t formally “know” in college — the mysterious girl in your English class, the drama kid who was larger than life but never a close friend. Their boldfaced names in print hold a certain draw, even though they’re people you wouldn’t necessarily choose to follow on Twitter.

And finally — perhaps most importantly — Class Notes allow us to glimpse other eras. Maybe I’m just a nosy busybody, but in addition to the ’99 column, I always read notes from the class of ’57, the year my father had a couple of Vassar girlfriends. And I’m fairly confident that I’m not alone in my curiosity for the updates from women who came before us in Poughkeepsie. I loved reading about the 100th birthday party of Anna North Coit, a pioneering journalist from the class of 1930, not to mention the women with glorious nicknames like “Bicky,” “Binny,” and “Pose” from the class of ’42. Without Class Notes, I’d have a slighter connection to the students of Vassar and the history of a school I still adore. And isn’t that connection, in the end, what an alumni magazine is for?

—Melissa Walker ’99 is a magazine writer and author of teen novels. She lives in Brooklyn. Visit her at or