When you graduate from (or, as I was once corrected, when you are graduated from) a prestigious university, you will be forever bound to your classmates by courteous but persistent requests for money, and by the periodic appearance in your mailbox of the school’s alumni magazine.

You know, the magazine with the alumni notes. The ones about all your amazing classmates and their world-class accomplishments. The ones who were all smarter than you, who belonged at said prestigious college, while you were undoubtedly a computer error. Or “geographic diversity.”

Is there anything more to be dreaded than turning to the back of the alumni magazine to read the alumni notes? (Does anyone read the articles?)

I’d like to say it’s because I’m middle-aged now, so the notes sometimes include the report of a classmate’s death. Such news is indeed sad. But you know that’s not what I mean.

If Instagram had a three-way with LinkedIn and Twitter, that’s the alumni notes.

In the world of alumni notes, your classmates are successful and beautiful and fabulous. They are doctors and professors and writers and ambassadors and people of power and influence. Okay, they’re mostly in finance, but still. They have loving and successful spouses and children (attending your alma mater, naturally). Their updates are upbeat and witty(ish). They have spent the pandemic developing elaborate hobbies that are quirky yet require unique talents and/or staggering fitness levels and/or the skills of an artisan. You, meanwhile, have gained twenty pounds, signed up for every available streaming service, and lost your ability to read an article more than three paragraphs long.

This morning, I opened this month’s alumni magazine, flipped to the back pages, and braced myself. The alumni news did not disappoint. One classmate (whom I don’t know, he’s probably a great guy but) wrote in that he has bought a tractor, built a stone wall on his property, grown, canned, and frozen his own fruits and vegetables, repaired a “crashed drone,” volunteered at a robotics competition (and won Outstanding Volunteer of the Year, which must be better than regular Volunteer of the Year?), and “managed to lose a few pounds.” While rolling my eyes, I caught sight of a phrase from the next column over: “Losing your job in your 50s….”

“Losing your job in your 50s is having promised that we could have all these kids and the spouse could stay home to raise them, and then being unable to fulfill that promise. Losing your job in your 50s is you and the spouse standing on opposite sides of the living room yelling at each other because there is no one else to yell at.”

I scanned to the beginning, astonished.

A man in the class ahead of me wrote at length, in gut-wrenching detail, about his experience losing his job and facing a job market inhospitable to people as old as we are. About the shame and fear of not being able to support his family, about having to uproot them, about the strain on his marriage, about the pall that being unemployed and desperately looking for work casts over everything.

The detail that got to me was this: When he asked his young son what his Christmas wish was, expecting him to name an Xbox game, the son replied that he wished his father would find a job. I cried as I read it. I recognized my own experience — what it feels like to lose your job, your income, your identity, your self-worth, this late in the game.

I would like to be as brave as this man. He shattered the shiny facade of all the perfect lives and loves and careers in the pages of the alumni notes. He proclaimed that his life, despite having attended a prestigious university, is not going according to plan. His words reached out to the rest of us, the silent alumni who are struggling, who don’t have happy news to share. It was downright subversive.

It was the opposite of alumni notes.

Not a Karen.