Take a moment to think back to the most vivid memories from your college experience.
Do it right now: close your eyes and see what comes to mind.
OK, what did you see? Maybe it was a high-profile sports game you went to, a graduation ceremony, a girlfriend or boyfriend or best friend, a professor who helped you find your passion, a light bulb moment in an online class, or the first time you walked into your dorm.
In fact, if you were to quantify your memories from college, about 40 percent of those memories would have come from the month of September. That statistic comes from The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip and Dan Heath (2017).
College is an extraordinary time that produces lifetime memories. But within those two or four or so years, there are moments that stand out more than others. In their book, the Heaths highlight the psychology of how we remember milestones such as beginnings, peak experiences, and endings when we look back holistically on entire experiences.
For colleges and universities, it’s important to cultivate and elevate these moments to help students and parents feel engaged with their experience and alumni stay connected as mentors, donors, ambassadors, and champions.
Academic leaders have an opportunity to enhance these moments using social media. Chip and Dan Heath share how providing pride, elevation, connection, and insight in these moments can create lasting positive memories. Here are some of the ways we work to create these moments using digital media at Marquette University and use them to engage alumni.
Each year around graduation, we ask parents to share a childhood and a current photo of their graduating senior. We compile these images into a video slideshow that gets shown on social media and on the big screen at the arena before the commencement ceremony. Parents also talk about how it makes them cry. But we also go further and invite parents to share a special message (if they choose) for their child—and we turned that into a Twitter thread. In another Twitter thread, we included then-and-now photos of students moving in and moving out, including one with a father alongside his son.
Celebrating significant faculty milestones isn’t just about giving recognition to faculty, though they deserve that. It’s also an opportunity for students and alumni to reflect on the lessons and experiences this person provided them. For example, our communication team recently published an article about our College of Engineering dean’s 30th anniversary. This prompted an outpouring of comments on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, a sampling you can see here.
Chip and Dan Heath say that mementos such as wedding, vacation, and family photos are probably the first things you’d grab if your house caught on fire. These photos are some of our most lasting moments of connection. So it’s no surprise that one of our most popular social media posts concerns Valentine’s Day love stories, giving students and alumni an opportunity to share how they met a spouse, a best friend, or in one case, their favorite sports team. Inviting others to tell their stories provides a much-needed opportunity for connection in this otherwise cold and drab month in the Upper Midwest.
Some moments aren’t about grand gestures like graduation or move-in but rather quiet moments of reflection, insight, and realization. They can be documented with a favorite quote or sitting down to journal. At Marquette, we try to provide an opportunity for these moments through short reflections from our president on social media. These 280-character reflections get a much greater response than any other type of content and messages. See here and here for a couple of recent examples.
The above examples represent moments for our university, but every institution has their own traditions, cherished faculty, pride points, and milestones. Consider elevating your own highlights using social media to create lasting memories for students, faculty, and your community.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The power of moments: Why certain experiences have extraordinary impact. Simon & Schuster.
Tim Cigelske is the director of integrated content at Marquette University and an adjunct professor teaching social media analytics and media writing.