Author: Elizabeth Kimmelman, C’04
Second semester of my senior year, I had the best time of my life and was also an emotional wreck. I was distraught at the thought of the inevitable end to college and saying goodbye to Penn (if you’ve read my commencement article, you know this culminated in a tear-filled hysterical graduation). With a couple months left to go senior year, there was this article in the DP about something called “Facebook” coming to Penn. I remember thinking, “What a stupid name for a website, the facebooks are those things we got freshman year” and then I pretty much ignored the article. This said a lot, considering that I was a second semester senior and all I did during class was read the DP.
A few weeks later, facebook hit Penn. I didn’t immediately sign up for it because it just seemed so weird. Why would my roommate have to be my facebook friend when I could just walk next door to her room and say hi? What was the point? A few days later, my friend, appalled with what I had been missing out on, bluntly told me, “Elizabeth, this thing is awesome. Just do it. And it’s only at Ivy League schools, so it’s really exclusive and cool” (watch the movie, The Social Network. The exclusivity thing was a marketing tool for them and it totally worked). I added in my own argument that it might be a nice way to stay in touch with people after graduation, and, by the end of the day, I had an account. Madness ensued.
Do you remember when you signed up for facebook for the first time? Remember how much fun it was to find your (real) friends and how neat it was to connect with someone you hadn’t seen for years? Imagine all of this becoming available to you a month before before college graduation. What better way to cope with your anxiety about graduation than “friending” every person you ever met at Penn. Wondering what will happen to the cute guy from music class you figured you’d never see again? Facebook friends! Nervous that you’ll never talk to one of your good acquaintances once you move to L.A. and she moves to NYC? Facebook friends!
Once you became friends with someone, you’d look at all of their friends and find even more people who weren’t actually your friends and realize you HAD to be facebook friends with them. It became absolutely necessary to be “friends” with every girl in your sorority, every single person from your classes (you could sort by class in the early days), anyone who lived in your dorm freshman year, etc. Every time I opened my email, there were at least 20 unread messages with friend requests.
Some people tried to make rules like, “I won’t request friends, I’ll just accept requests” or “I won’t join until after I graduate.” Those rules lasted about a day. Facebook was a tidal wave and everyone got swept up in it.
It seems silly now that facebook was such a big deal, especially because back then it didn’t really do anything. There was a profile, relationship status and you could “poke” someone (a concept I still do not understand). There were no walls to write, no photos to upload, no groups, fanpages, or newsfeeds. Yet, it was fascinating. There was something so captivating about connecting with all of these people I went to school with for four years. I have 803 facebook friends. I promise you, I’m not that cool. I just happened to be part of this wave that swept Penn for a month back in 2004.
When I started working in Alumni Relations, I tried making another one of those silly facebook rules – that I wouldn’t be friends with my volunteers. That rule lasted for a few months, until I realized that facebook was a vital part of my job. We use group pages and fan pages to build class unity and promote our reunions. We ask questions like, “Who was your favorite professor?” so that classmates can easily start up conversations for the first time in twenty-five years. We get our playlists for reunion parties by starting facebook discussions about music they want to hear at reunion. I think the connections that alumni are making on facebook now are so much more meaningful than the frantic “GRADUATION IS COMING” connections that were forged during my senior year. People genuinely want to talk to each other and get back in touch. Maybe even with that boy they had a crush on from their music class…