Lighten up, Ann Landers

February 19, 1993

Dear Ann Landers:

Lighten up. Maybe after reading hundreds of thousands of letters from people with real problems, you've lost your sense of humor. That is the only conclusion we can draw from your deadly serious response about the humor contained in Western Maryland College's brochure about financial aid.

How could anyone take seriously the brochure's tongue-in-cheek advice that the college's tuition and expenses ($19,580) be funded through a chain letter, by playing the school's telephone number in the Pick-Seven Lotto, or by opening a savings and loan?

You've got to admit that the corners of your mouth turned up at least a little when you read one of the brochure's suggested advantages of enrolling a kid in college: You can set the car radio dial to National Public Radio instead of a rock station that blares songs by Guns 'n' Roses.

Admittedly, this isn't gut-busting humor. Rather, the jokes are part of a well-conceived marketing plan that Western Maryland College has been using for nearly eight years. Even though it easily could get lost among the nation's other 2,500 institutions of higher learning, this small liberal arts school has used its printed materials to grab the attention of high school guidance counselors, teachers, parents and students.

Thanks to a friendship between Western Maryland President Robert Chambers and syndicated cartoonist Garry B. Trudeau, the college has been using Trudeau's Doonesbury characters to illustrate a number of its brochures. The cartoons poke fun at the pomposity of professors and indolence of college students.

The brochure that led someone to write to you -- "The Thinking Parents' Guide to Paying for College" -- has also served its intended purpose. The college's admissions staff added the humor in the hope of getting more parents to read the entire pamphlet. Indeed, routine inquiries about financial aid have dropped off considerably because parents now thoroughly read the materials.

You and your correspondent, Nonplused in Edison, N.J., should realize that humor can be a soothing balm.

As the Roman poet Horace observed: "A jest often decides matters of importance more effectually and happily than seriousness."

Very truly yours,

Carefree in Carroll

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