The Red Book: A Harvard Tradition That Keeps Alumni Connected

Once every five years, every Harvard graduate gets a nice little surprise. No, it’s not a raise at their jobs – although some may prefer that option. Instead, it’s the Red Book, a collection of information from every Harvard graduate that sums up what they have been doing for the past five years.

In a sense, it’s a right of passage to get your first red book, as many Harvard graduates know. Deborah Copaken Kogan, a Harvard grad, recently wrote a novel – appropriately titled The Red Book – about four former Harvard roommates who are attending a college reunion. In her novel, she describes the relationship that many Harvard alumni have with their red books.

“No data exists concerning the percentage of red books that are cracked open the minute their recipients arrive home from work, the playground, and adulterous tryst, what have you,” she says. “But the author will go out on a limb here and guess 100.”

In the red books, students can find intimate information about their peers, such as who has gotten married or divorced, who has been diagnosed with cancer, who has accomplished a physical feat such as running a marathon, and much more. It’s essentially like Facebook, except you do not have to still be friends with the person to know all about them.

The tradition has been going on for quite a while; in fact, reports of what Harvard graduates had been doing with their lives have been recorded since Harvard’s beginning. The oldest known red book was published in 1642 and contains information on nine members of a previous commencement class. It has obviously grown since then, but it’s interesting to see how long the tradition has survived.

It’s a great way to stay in touch with all of the people you went to school with, even if you might not have been great friends during your college days.

However, I can also see how it might become a little stressful for alumni members. For example, if you had just lost your job, you probably would not want everyone to know about it. As one alumni member, Robert Charles Berring Jr. says, many alumni “want to get it right” when writing their stories that will be published in the next edition of the red book.

What do you think about this unique tradition? Is it better to have a written account of what all alumni members have done, or are class reunions enough? Tell us your thoughts on the subject in the comment section below.

Via The New York Times

photo credit: Jake Guevara/The New York Times






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