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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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The (not so) lost art of letter writing

Graphic by Shabana Gupta.

Correspondence, snail mail, a USPS surprise — there are many names for the antiquated form of communication that humans have relied on for centuries. Dissenters may say writing a message on a piece of paper and sending it to a friend via snail mail is an antiquated form of communication, but fret not! Grinnellians are keeping the letter-writing tradition alive.

Clare Roarty `22 has been an avid letter writer since the fall of 2019, when she realized the method was the perfect way to keep in touch with friends who had just graduated from Grinnell. “I just think it’s a really nice way to have something physical reminding you, ‘Oh, my friends do exist!’” said Roarty.

Roarty’s regular correspondence list has since expanded to include more close friends who she regales with the intimate details of a salad she made for lunch or an engrossing book review of her most recent read. To sign off her letters, Roarty often reflects the mood of the piece, “If it’s one of my good friends, I’ll be a little bit dramatic like, ‘All my love, Clare,’ and, I don’t know, if it’s like a very stressed letter I’ll sign off like, ‘Hoping for the best!’”

I just think it’s a really nice way to have something physical reminding you, ‘Oh, my friends do exist!’- Clare Roarty ’22

Ashley Pacheco `24 has had over 10 pen pals since she started actively corresponding via letter in high school, many of whom live outside of the U.S. and initially connected with her with over Instagram. One pen pal, who lives in Germany, has been exchanging letters with Pacheco for the last two years. “It does start off a bit like icebreakers where you just kind of ask a bunch of little facts about them, but then slowly you kind of get into this groove of like, ‘So tell me how your week has gone,’ like, ‘this is something new that’s been happening,’” she explained.

To spice up her stationary, Pacheco enjoys designing the envelope to match a theme expressed in her letter. “I’ve learned through trial and error that as long as you kind of leave the address that it’s coming from and the middle address clear, everything else is fair game,” she said. Honorable mentions of past designs include a spray of constellations for a lunar theme and sprigs of holly around Christmas time.

Ada Mehl `24 got her first pen pal in 2020, when a fellow first year reached out on the Grinnell 2024 Discord server asking for potential letter-writing buddies.

“It’s a completely new way of getting to know someone,” Mehl said.

While this was her first experience with a pen pal, it will definitely not be her last as Mehl has fully embraced the correspondence lifestyle and already signed up for two new pen pal programs organized on campus.

Both the Grinnell Peer Educators and Student Alumni Council (SAC) have recently launched pen pal programs, the latter aiming to link current Grinnell students with alumni to build connections and get to know fellow Grinnellians with similar interests.

Mehl is hoping to find a mentor in her new pen pal from the SAC program.

“Like someone I can go to for questions regarding life in general and you know, things about college and finding jobs and stuff like that,” she elaborated.

The SAC’s pen pal program is bringing new people into the correspondence game, including Michele Regenold `89, whose last experience with a pen pal was in high school. Regenold responded to a call for additional volunteers on the Grinnell alumni Facebook group, “Everyday Class Notes.” Though the initial contact between students and alumni has been over email, Regenold heard from her pen pal that she’d rather exchange letters via snail mail.

Pacheco voiced similar sentiments: “I think that there’s something a little bit timeless about a letter that you don’t really get with an email.”

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About the Contributor
Nadia Langley
Nadia Langley, Editor in Chief
Nadia Langley is a fourth year majoring in history and French. Her favorite historical French quote is: "Literally I didn't say that, that's so cray," -- Marie Antoinette, 1793.
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