Alumni for beginners

Written by Jackie Bischof
October 5, 2007

 “alumnus and alumna stem from Latin alere, ‘to nourish or be nourished,’ now by a university; originally alumnus was a pupil and now it is a male graduate; the plural alumni refers to either sex” –

MOST STUDENTS at Wits are inclined to believe that they pay to be given a hard time by the University. Whether it’s dealing with lecturers, paying fees, arguing with secretaries or trying to sort out your exam schedule – it hardly ever seems like Wits is on our side.

Well, here’s a way to claim compensation for your years of undergraduate toil. Register as an alumnus! Sounds like an advertising pitch, doesn’t it? (Buy a Wits degree and get something free! Now, for only R20 000 a year…) But on investigation, Vuvuzela discovered that being a Wits Alumni has its perks.

These perks don’t just include being able to sit at a business lunch in Melrose Arch and talk about how wonderful your education at Wits truly was. Nor does it necessarily involve donating 10% of your one million rand bonus to furthering the development of our wonderful higher learning institution.

Of course, you can all do all of these things too, but most of the Alumni advantages are more practical. In fact, you can do pretty much everything you did as a student, except pay university fees. For R150 a year (R100 for a card and R50 for parking) you are given access to the libraries – including the use of photocopiers and computers. Borrowing rights are excluded from this; that comes at an extra cost of R700 for 6 months and R1200 for a year. Seems exorbitant, but there are some careers students head in to where having access to Wits libraries is a valuable bonus. Alumni Affairs is also negotiating with the Wits libraries to lower this fee.

You can also join a sports club at Wits and use the sports facilities by paying the student rate or slightly higher. These prices are negotiated with Sports Administration. Peter Maher, head of Alumni Relations, says this becomes an even more attractive when you consider students are away on holiday for five months of the year. Swimming in the pool without exposing yourself to the glares of Matrix vistors – pure bliss. A gym membership for R250 a year? Forget Virgin and join Wits.

The Wits Club, next to Alumni House at the bottom of West Campus, offers fabulous buffets at R60. You can also hire out the club for conferences and parties – as an Alumni you get a discounted rate.

Wits Alumni also receive the Wits Review four times a year, a magazine that updates them on Wits news, research and alumni events. The Alumni Office regularly hosts luncheons and teas, can organise your class reunion, get you in touch with old classmates that are registered on their database, and could even get you a job.

The Alumni website,, has a careers portal where Wits graduates only can upload their CV’s. Maher says that this recent addition to the website was put in place because “sometimes companies specifically target Wits [graduates] because Wits has a good reputation.” Maher acknowledges that most students don’t have the most positive interaction with Wits as an institution while they’re studying. Wits Alumni hopes to “offer them a brand new experience of Wits…where we now treat them as equals and honour them as alumni.”

While all this may read like a public relations stunt for Alumni House, there are also altruistic benefits to becoming an alumnus that most students don’t know about. Existing alumni offer mentorship, bursaries and internships to students. Want to thank Cullen Library for the peace it gave you during exams? Alumni can specify what they want Wits to do with their donations, by working with the Wits Development Office. Registering as an alumnus “is a way of giving back and supporting students”, says Maher. “We need to develop a culture of giving back, not just of money but of time.”

Maher says that Alumni House is trying to incorporate a culture of volunteerism into its alumni recruitment drive. He says that the idea of being an alumnus is highly valued in countries like the America, but not in South Africa. Alumni House wants students to reap the benefits of being a Wits graduate – advantages that extend beyond just having a degree certificate attached to a CV.

Wits Alumni currently has 90 000 registered alumni based locally and overseas. The office is working on making a broader range of services available to students. They hold regular functions such as The Founder’s Tea (for students who graduated 40 or more years ago) and alumni picnics, held quarterly on the Library Lawns. The next picnic is on the 21st of October and is open to all registered Wits alumni. So register as alumni and in the future you can bring a beer, listen to some music, chat to your family on the Library Lawns and pretend you’re a first year again. And then you can donate your R1 million bonus to benefit future Witsies!


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