Don's Diary

January 12, 1996

MONDAY. Office inundated with questionnaires returned by alumni updating us on address changes, career developments, arrival of children, offers to help with work experience for students. All to be databased. But I leave it behind for a seminar in London. The vice chancellor for university advancement of the University of California, Riverside (how long before we see such a title in the United Kingdom?) leading the session. The UC system is an attractive example for this country: state institutions went into serious development activities recently. Reflect on how, philanthropically speaking, Americans know how to behave. Nature or nurture?

On the train back to Canterbury crossing the Medway I am reminded that the origins of philanthropy go a long way further back than the University of California. Kent's most generous benefaction yet - more than Pounds 1.5million to set up a base in the Medway towns - is coming from the Rochester Bridge Trust which has been looking after the Medway crossings and related concerns for 700 years or so.

Swapped transport arrangements with husband today. I get to read the paper properly on the train and he gets to pick up five-year-old from after-school care to the accompaniment of Go Ahead Secret Seven on the car stereo.

TUESDAY. We put a lot of energy into the relaunch of our alumni magazine recently. Responses coming in now to the new issue. Mostly enthusiastic, hooray ("it's alive, it's interesting, I'm pleased to be mentioned in it"). One correspondent takes us to task for profiling successful alumni. Claims his generation (1966) came to Kent bent on "harmless mediocrity". Anything in this? Or is it mid-life rationalisation?

Deadline day for bids to our annual fund. Donations from past students are the core of the fund, mostly raised using the phone. Applications for projects drawing on this flexible source of extra funding come from all over the university. Last year we used it, among other things, to create an alumni postgraduate scholarship.

WEDNESDAY. To Horsham with a group of students to the headquarters of Sun Alliance Life & Pensions. The students are the inaugural winners of a prize in actuarial science and maths given in memory of a Sun Alliance actuary who was working on a research project with the university at the time of his death. Now in their final year, the students are bright, besuited (there is a particular shade of bluish green in favour for formalwear this year - teal, is it? moss?) and all seem to know where they are headed. None of them admits to a student loan. Several mention parental support. One will use her Pounds 200 award to keep afloat financially; another plans a trip to the United States for the last pre-career summer; a third will add it to a buoyant share portfolio. Should we get him onto the university's investments committee while his nerve holds?

THURSDAY. Another couple of orders for birthday cakes from parents for their student offspring through our from-home-with-love scheme. This blatant swipe from St Andrews and Sussex (who got it from Canada) is part of our newly-introduced families programme - a recognition of the critical backing that many parents now have to provide from transport at the start of term to cash hand-outs at wobbly moments.

French class over lunchtime. Our nearest university neighbour is in France. It's a natural direction for Kent to face, particularly since the tunnel opened. As ever, I groan that ten years of school French has not translated into greater fluency. May my son do better.

To the Groucho Club in the evening for a gathering of our alumni working in the media. London works well as a base for alumni events. There are 100 here and we had to turn 40 more away. Need a bigger (and quieter) venue next time for this natural group of networkers. In so far as anything is audible in the clamour it is the noise of deals being struck around the room. Broadcasters, journos, poets, marketing types. Do not look all that mediocre. Nor all that harmless, come to that . . .

FRIDAY. Degree congregation in Canterbury Cathedral. Lots more of that shade of green (lovat? aqua?) in evidence. I have the nice job of marshalling the hon grads and their escort of civic dignatories. Of the four universities I have worked for, Kent has the most memorable degree ceremonies, because of the stunning setting. Much anxiety was provoked during the summer when it seemed the university might not be able to use the cathedral for various reasons - the sizeable income foregone for the dean and chapter, now that they charge for entry, the furious tourists from Auckland who arrive in July to find it closed, the growing number of graduates, the competition for car parking in the city). The threat of losing the cathedral united students as no other recent issue. It may be a secular age but they know an ace venue when they see one. Happily, it has just been agreed that the 1996 congregations will take place there.

Coming of age day: we are celebrating our 30th anniversary by conferring honorary degrees on four alumni. A treat to watch the lit-up faces of the students graduating with their predecessors. Can never help being moved by this visible rite of passage. For my generation (1973) it was not at all the thing to do it "properly". A mean lot we must have been to deny our families the glow. Hope five-year-old is kinder when it's his turn.

Director of development and alumni relations at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

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