Twenty-six years ago I graduated from the U of M with a journalism degree and a stack of story clips from the Minnesota Daily, where I worked as a hard-bitten cops beat reporter. Since then, I’ve written and edited for newspapers and magazines all over the country, from Minneapolis to New York to Seattle to San Francisco.
No matter how far I’ve rambled, however, I’ve always returned to Minnesota, due to that mysterious tractor beam with which all northerners are familiar. My best friends are here. My best jobs have been here. I met my husband here. And the U is here. It seems fitting that I am stepping in as editor of this magazine just in time for Homecoming. What a fitting term: I feel like I’m coming home.
A few weeks ago I took a long stroll around the Twin Cities campus in order to get oriented. I wasn’t the only one. Northrop Mall, Coffman Union, and the Scholars Walk were crawling with small groups of incoming freshman listening to guides explaining what their lives at the U will be like. You can study here. You buy your books there. This is where you catch the train.
I trailed a few of the guides, eavesdropping and taking in the sights. What struck me most was the extremely public nature of the U. Virtually every door was unlocked. Tables on the mall showcased ideas about technology and social justice. Students and professors lounged on myriad benches or on the grass or steps. The generations intermingled with ease, passing knowledge one way and energy the other. The whole scene was inspiring. The U was and remains a place where ideas matter, where progress is inevitable, and where people take for granted the worthiness of serving the greater good.
Before starting at the U way back when, I was what people commonly refer to as a wayward youth. I lived in parks and campgrounds on the West Coast. At night, I tied my belongings up in trees for security, including a guitar I never did learn to play. The money I had, bequeathed by my father before he went to prison for bank robbery in Washington state, was fast dwindling. Mine was not the conventional life of an American teenager, obviously, but not everyone walks a straight line to the future. Luckily, I was headstrong. Luckily, I had time to change course. Luckily, in the back of my mind, I always knew I had the U.
I am not kidding. Sitting on a cliff above the Pacific, I thought, I want my life to matter. I’ve got to find a way to both fit into and contribute to the world. I thought of a single path: I would return to Minnesota, get a job, and attend the U’s journalism school.
This simple formula worked marvelously well. I’ve had a challenging and successful career. And I feel fortunate to be taking the helm of Minnesota Alumni, following on the heels of the inimitable Cynthia Scott, who, truth be told, edited the vast majority of the issue you hold in your hands. She has been generous in sharing the many ways she’s made this magazine what it is.
Minnesota Alumni has a long, proud history of telling beautiful and important stories, of exploring the brilliant and surprising lives the U helped launch, and of being an independent voice for alumni. I intend to keep right on chasing those missions.
Jennifer Vogel (B.A. ’91) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.