Building the Olin Memory

The student body at Olin College has the institutional memory of a goldfish. For a college of just over 10 years old, we have forgotten a remarkable amount. Each graduating senior takes their knowledge and experience, and leaves behind a person-shaped hole in Olin’s collective memory. Club leaders take with them memories of successful past events. Project managers abscond with a litany of common pitfalls, and how to avoid them. Champions of a cause leave nothing but archeological evidence of their efforts, to be pieced together by their inheritors in years to come.

We lose track of club materials from year to year. Every successive student government struggles to interpret the last year’s constitution. Successive generations of Oliners have reinvented the proverbial wheel time and time again. If you’re curious, delve into some of the older folders on public (there’s one benefit to not cleaning out old files) or ask an alum about some of the things they used to do. The challenges we overcome and the successes we achieve are often celebrated and promptly forgotten.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Take a moment before the end of the year to reflect on your career at Olin so far. What did you try that worked very well? What failed unexpectedly? How did you recover? What do you wish you could have done with your group, but never had time for? What do you wish someone had told you, before you picked up the mantle? Write all this down.

I very nearly suggested that somebody take up the challenge to develop a system that allows us to capture the student narrative at Olin, but of course there are a dozen such projects in place already that I just don’t remember. Forget a systematic solution for now. Keep your legacy personal.

Very specifically, if you are the current leader of a student group, give your successor a transition manual. Think about what you can tell your successor that will help them next year. Don’t leave them to struggle through the same problems you have! When you leave Olin, be generous: don’t take all your accumulated knowledge with you.