In my three years at Macalester, we’ve talked a lot about the concept of belonging. Usually when we use this word, we’re talking about the importance of fitting in—of being a part of things, of feeling included. As we advance our strategic plan to build on past progress and imagine Macalester’s future, fostering a sense of belonging for all members of our community is a core part of our work.

At the same time, as I explained in my remarks at our most recent Commencement, I’ve been reflecting lately on another dimension of the word “belonging.” And that is the way in which Macalester belongs to every member of the alumni community—whenever you graduated, wherever you are in the world, and however often you’re able to visit campus. The degree you earned here makes Macalester yours, for life. You shaped this place by your presence, through your participation, and because you shared your unique gifts and talents during your time here.

The recently graduated members of the Class of 2023, for example, experienced just one “regular” semester before the COVID-19 pandemic upended the world as we knew it. Yet, throughout their remaining three years of college, I saw their tenacity, perseverance, and compassion. I also saw how they used their voices to make meaningful change. They asked questions, listened closely, learned from one another, and took action. They spoke out about inequity and injustice. They imagined creative solutions to thorny problems. When we asked them to share their input for the strategic plan that will guide the college after they leave, they gave it, and the plan that emerged is full of their ideas. So, while Macalester undoubtedly has helped shape them, our newest alumni also have changed and transformed all of us.

For generations of students at Macalester, that’s precisely the point: each graduating class leaves Macalester different—and better—than they found it. This is not a side effect or an unintended consequence of our educational model; it is the very essence of what we do, and exactly our intention when we bring people from all over the world with a wide range of lived experiences to learn and work together. From those interactions with new people and ideas, our students stretch, grow, and change. And they leave indelible marks on this place that is theirs. Today’s Macalester is stronger for it.

As Macalester graduates, I hope you feel pride in that ownership—and a deep sense of responsibility. Since the college belongs to its alumni, you are instrumental to its care and nurturing. Not only in the sense that your degree is meaningful and valuable to you, but also because making a Macalester education available to future students is a shared goal to which we all can aspire. For some of you, that sense of responsibility takes the shape of volunteerism or mentoring of current students. For others, it’s philanthropy in support of key programs and initiatives. And—whether you realize it or not—you all serve as unofficial ambassadors and spokespeople. Even the simple act of wearing Macalester gear when you travel opens the door to conversations with prospective students and families, eager to learn more about the college and its values.

Just as you belong within the Macalester community, Macalester belongs to you and is made more special by your sustained involvement in the life of the college. Keeping alumni deeply engaged in our global community—in person or across the miles—is critical to ensuring that we thrive far into the future. Whether you were among the more than 1,400 alumni who celebrated Reunion on campus last month or haven’t been to St. Paul in years, we look forward to welcoming you back to your Macalester.

Dr. Suzanne M. Rivera is president of Macalester College.

July 17 2023

Back to top