For many CTY students, CTY is more than just a fancy summer school. CTY is an important social and developmental factor in their life. Many students become social outcasts in their own schools because of their talent, and CTY is the first place where they are not judged nerds and dorks because of their differences. The friendships created through CTY are strong, and often last through years and distance. Sometimes, CTY gives students the social skills and confidence necessary to make better friends in their own towns.
CTY also provides a safe place for learning, both academically and developmentally. In a world where knowledge and love of learning often produce teasing and ostrization, a place where students can express their eagerness to learn becomes a sort of safe haven. During a time in their lives where teenagers face increasing pressures to conform to social standards which do not validate their gifts, CTY provides a safe place to explore those gifts, as well as a safe place for students to explore themselves without many of the social pressures of the outside world. The learning and exploration that occurs at CTY- academically, socially, and psychologically- often help the students face an unforgiving world with greater strength. It is these factors, I have heard time and time again from students of all sites and ages, that keep them returning to CTY summer after summer and encourage them to keep in touch with their CTY friends throughout the year.
In the weeks after a CTY session, most students go through what is called "CTY Withdrawal" or "Post CTY Depression" where they miss their CTY friends and experiences very intensely. During their high school years, many CTY students and alumni keep CTY and the social relationships it creates as an important part of their lives. They create CTY web pages, join mailing lists, write letters, make long distance phone calls, and attend reunions. Often, when alumni enter college, they grow more distant from their CTY friends and experiences as they become more involved with the new experiences being presented to them. However, a number of them find ways to integrate CTY as part of their non-CTY life, by continuing to remain in contact with CTY friends and applying to be staff members during their summers. Even students who become much less involved with the CTY community usually keep one or two CTY friends throughout the years, in addition to the lessons CTY has taught them. In some fashion or another, CTY has created a community that extends beyond the six weeks of summer and lasts years. I believe that not only does CTY have a responsibility to help support this community, the existence of this community can help CTY grow and develop. The way to do this is through a more effective Alumni Association.
Creating a more effective Alumni Association would benefit CTY in many ways. CTY students are talented individuals who often find themselves in high paying jobs. I know that currently many students and parents are asked to make donations to CTY. For many students, this is the only contact they get from CTY after they leave the program, thus making them less likely to donate money. However, if they are kept in continued contact with the program through the Alumni Association, they are more likely to give money when asked. Considering the relatively low cost of the continued contact, the return gained in donations would most likely more than cover the cost. Secondly, if alumni are respected and encouraged to continue their contact with CTY after they leave the program, they are more likely to assist in recruitment programs, such as talking to perspective students about the CTY experience. Alumni testimony could be a powerful force in convincing perspective CTY students and their parents to invest in CTY. Finally, in recent years, a segment of the student and alumni population has been upset by what they view as negative changes in CTY. An active Alumni Association would both see that this groups concerns are addressed in an efficient manner and give students and alumni a place to go to see that their concerns are heard.
A more effective Alumni Association would also bring countless benefits to CTYers. It would allow them to find old friends and wax nostalgic about CTY. It would give them a contact point within CTY to express their thoughts and opinions about the program. It will allow them to keep in touch with the program, and provide them with services, like reunions and information. While many of the things CTY alumni want out of an alumni association they could do themselves, an Alumni Association would make it much, much easier.