For old time's sake


Lasting Bonds:  (from left) Shashikala, Jessie, Vasanthi  and Shankuntala from the first graduating batch of Jyoti Nivas

If you thought students put their alma mater behind them once they stepped out of its portals, degree in hand, pause to think again. Not only are alumni associations alive but they’re functioning with renewed energy and playing proactive roles today. Clearly, the cords that bind batchmates to each other and to their alma mater are unbreakable.

Time was when a reunion day was the single most eagerly-awaited event on the alumni calendar. Fellowship is still the main raison d’etre, but changing needs in a changing world, and networking the buzzword, alumni associations are connecting with their institutions in more meaningful ways.

Giving back with gratitude

Once they’ve found their place under the sun, most students feel the desire to give something back to their alma mater that moulded them. The desire stems from feelings of deep gratitude, maintains Fr Ambrose Pinto, Principal of St Joseph’s College of Arts & Science (SJCAS), an institution that figures among the top ten liberal arts and science colleges in the country.

Ramaswamy, who was president of the Old Boys Association (OBA) of SJCAS for 12 years (1994-2006), believes that an old students’ body fulfils its role when it motivates former students to give back to their institution and to society. The college has a rich resource in  its alumni, whose members comprise the who’s who in government, public and private sector, media, the arts, sports and social service fields. Finding past students easily approachable and extremely helpful, Fr Ambrose envisions an ongoing role for them as important stakeholders, partners and collaborators in the consistent renewal of the institution.

The glittering postal stamp release function on August 1 to mark 125 years of the college was just one among many events efficiently managed by ex-students that he cites with pride. He emphasises that the OBA is a very vibrant body, playing an “enriching and inspiring role” at different levels. That it’s a growing one is borne out by the fact that a Coorg chapter has just taken shape, with some 500 ex-students set to meet in Gonikoppal on September 6.

By the students, for the students

“Josephites are a breed apart,” says Rosalind Fernandes, president of St. Joseph’s College of Commerce (SJCC) Alumni Association, elbowing everyone out of the reckoning with a hint of conceit. But this is indeed an alumni body with a difference. A super-vibrant body that functions thrice a week out of a fully furnished, designated office within the campus, it plunges itself headlong into students activities, interacting with them on a continuous basis and providing them with a sound learning experience.

“We’re just a phone call away,” she says, adding that “our Principal is ever open to our ideas and encourages us whole-heartedly.” Whether it’s cash awards, cricket matches or fund-raisers, it’s the unstinting support from ex-students that makes the impossible possible. “Even while travelling, they are accessible on e-mail,” says Rosalind, who has been an active alumni member for eight years. A benefit show to support the heart surgery of a child of a ground staff was a sell-out, while Kronos 09, a fund-raiser that included a fashion show was another plume in the alumni cap.  Rosalind insists that it’s a recollection of only happy memories of their college days that drives them to give of their best to their alma mater.

From global to local

With fellowship the prime motivating factor, ex-students think nothing of traversing the ends of the earth for that trip down memory lane. The silver reunion of the 1983 batch of SJCC saw a record turnout of 70 per cent from as far away as Canada, the US, Australia, West Asia, and remote corners of the country. Asha Lewis nee D’Souza, based in the UAE, who bore the onus of connecting with her batchmates was overjoyed when her hard work eventually paid off.

“It was unimaginable...we never thought it would happen. Most of us were seeing each other after 25 years and it felt like being back in college. It's something we will cherish forever,” she exults, still fresh from the experience. The reunion also kindled in some ex-students, especially Bangalore-based ones, the idea of being active alumni.

Helping hands, giving hearts

“We are ageing and the only way to become youthful is to meet the youth of our days,” quips Sreesh Babu, an active member of the St Joseph’s Arts and Science Alumni Batch of 1969, which met early this month to celebrate 40 years of friendship and fellowship.

On a more serious note, he describes how the Batch of ’69 wanted to do something concrete for the college. “Some of us thought of starting a book bank for needy students, others wanted to institute awards and cash prizes for meritorious students. After much discussion, we decided to fund a mid-day meal scheme. The response from the alumni has been fabulous. Josephites like Narayan, executive director of Indian Overseas Bank, and Padmanabhan, GM, Canara Bank, made whopping contributions. Our aim is to reach a corpus fund of Rs 1 crore,” he explains.

More precious than the plaque on the wall proclaiming the names of the benefactors, what the alumni body holds dear is the fact that they can help the institution which moulded their personalities and gave them a solid footing in society. The well-networked members, who are on committees like FKCCI or ASSOCHAM have plans to organise a job fair for students graduating from the college sometime soon.

Then there are reunions waiting to happen. Stanley Carvalho, Financial Correspondent, Reuters Middle East, of SJCC 1980 batch is looking forward to their first-ever gathering next year. During a recent visit to the campus he fell “an easy victim to the charitable deceptions of nostalgia” [Marquez]. “It was like a homecoming. I walked right into the Principal’s office to be warmly welcomed by Fr Daniel Fernandes, who showed me the changes within the campus,” he recalls.

Role reversal

For Shashikala Kodandaram, retired English lecturer and former principal of RBANMS PU College, of the first graduating batch of Jyothi Nivas College (JNC) in 1970, the college is “like a second home”. Proud to see it grow to prestigious stature from its small beginnings within the premises of St Francis Xavier’s Girls High School, she is grateful to it for “the values it instilled in us”. October 2 is a date blocked permanently in her diary for the annual alumni day. She and others have contributed towards awards for meritorious students. Taking the ties that bind a step further, Shashikala, who was president of the alumni for a term and is an ikebana expert, says she has promised all her plants for their garden! Her batch is like a family that over the years has shared closely in each others’ life’s journeys.

Also from her batch is Vasanthi Moses, Dean of Science Faculty, JNC, whose dream it was to come back to teach “because of the lovely relationship I shared with teachers and fellow students.” She attributes the person she is today to the dedication and sincerity of the staff, especially the then principal Sr Yvonne Marie who took personal interest in each student’s development. Her experience as co-ordinator of alumni activities has shown that past students, new or old, are readily available to give guest lectures, institute awards, donate towards prizes and organise sports events.

Likewise, it’s been a smooth ride from the student rolls to the staff rolls for Sr Juanita,
Vice-Principal of Mount Carmel’s Degree College, who along with ex student Mythili
Jagannathan is now part of the Zoology faculty.

“It’s a wonderful feeling,” says Anjana Mani of her transition from student to faculty member, Economics. Very much at home in familiar surroundings, the happy threesome is actively involved in alumni activities, although they admit to hitting a temporary roadblock due to the demands of an autonomous system.

Efforts to get ex-students together next month are gaining momentum. “Maybe you can help us, through these columns, by appealing to all Carmelites to touch base with the college?” asks Anjana with a smile radiating hope.

The thrust of alumni activities here has been on helping needy students with fees and in outreach programmes such as the ‘Economics of Vermiculture Composting’, an income-generating project with zero investment for rural women. They were ably helped in this venture by Carmelites Dharini Bathia and MR Vineeta, who are now based in Kolkata and Hyderabad respectively.

With many people returning to their roots, there is renewed interest in connecting with family and long lost friends. Umpteen stories are told of batchmates finding each other online after decades. After a certain age when career goals have been achieved and family obligations met, many men and women are keen to relive happy memories of their school and college days.

Perfect past, exciting present

Joint director (News), Doordarshan Bangalore, Ravindra, who graduated from St. Joseph’s Arts College in 1992 can’t stop himself from walking up to people—strangers actually—whom he recognises, just vaguely as ex Josephites, to strike up a conversation with them and reconnect with precious memories.

“It’s only when you leave college that you realise what you are missing. In college, I thought I was the cat’s whiskers because I travelled in a car while the others cycled or walked! I had an opportunity to make many friends, but I failed to realise that life is more than being seen with the best looking girls or wearing the most expensive clothes that money could buy!” he exclaims.

His conviction that the best years of his life were spent inside college leads him to grab every chance to re-enter the campus. “As  alumni, we must tell the present generation of students how they need to make the most of the opportunities that the college gives them even in terms of meeting different people and forging lasting bonds of friendship.
What I am today is because of the friends I made in college,” he adds.

Explaining their tradition of honouring past students who have excelled in various fields at every valedictory function, Fr Ambrose states that present-day students need heroes to look up to and be inspired.

Incidentally, the Madras Christian College Alumni Association is the oldest one in India. Founded in 1891, its centenary was celebrated in December 1992.

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