Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Letter to All Students and Alumni

Dear Students and Alumni Everywhere,

Some of you might have heard of me but may wonder if I am nothing more than a sentimental construct of the past. Some of you know me by name only. Some, I fear, know me not at all.

I am unmistakably present at fewer institutions than I would like but part of me can be found in many. I represent the part of a learning institution that cares for you, that delights in your presence, that thrills at glimmers of your potential and imagines with great hope what you might someday be, that smiles at but sees beyond the excesses of your youth, that senses your struggles, and seeks to comfort and correct in equal measure.

I can be found in the affirming academic standards of professors and the attentiveness of food service workers, and in the diligence of administrators and administrative assistants, librarians and campus safety officers. You will see me in the long hours they devote to doing well by you, in the way they not only grade your papers but seek to strengthen your powers of reasoning, in their intuiting of, and attendance to, your emotional state, and in their encouragement of your efforts and individual aspirations.

Perhaps you do not always see them or what they are trying to do for you. If not, you do not see me in them. Perhaps you are more sensitive to those who are gruff or distracted by their own ambitions or disappointments. But if you look for me, you will find me in the simple actions and quiet dedications of some people at most institutions. If you seek and discover these traits, you will carry them in grateful memory throughout your life and you will see the institution in a kinder light.

When you graduate, you will find me in those who hope to hear from you, to learn of your trials and triumphs, both personal and professional. And, yes, they will always appreciate it when you reflect on the gift you were given when you first set foot on campus; the gift from everyone past and present who built equity in the institution, who believed in giving more to the next generation than the previous generation had given them. And they will be grateful when you decide to the same for the coming generations, in any way you can.

But you will know where I reside in truest form when you see the greatest pride taken in the way you live your life, in the way you seek to serve others, in the manifestations of any obligation you may feel to “give back,” to society, to use anything you’ve learned or earned to ease the way for those with less. Then, my daughter, my son, ah, then your mother’s unabashed pride will burn bright.

And as we get older, I hope your memories will be sufficiently fond to keep an eye on me. Just because I have been of one generation does not meet I will be of the next. The hearts of those in whom you saw me will grow old and die. I can only hope that they will have inspired others to bring me to life again in their own way and time. But if you are not attentive, I can slip away. If you do not reflect on who or what made a difference as time goes by, and do not let them know how your success relates to their actions or encouragements, they will be left wondering if they made much of a difference, or at all.

So, you see, a part of me resides in and depends on you, too. If I was not a present in your life as I should, if I was crowded out by the pretentions of prestige or incessant calls for financial support, you can choose to hold that against me, to be indifferent, or aloof, or you can be for others what you hoped I would be for you. I am as mythic or as real as each generation makes me. All it takes is a few who understand the difference I can make in the lives of so many for so long.

Fondly yours,

Alma Mater*

(*Latin for “Nourishing Mother)

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