Among the activities that are typically associated with autumn on college campuses is the Homecoming tradition. In late October and early November, I participated in Homecoming twice. First, I was welcomed back to Michigan State University, as a visiting graduate (Does the year really matter?) and, then, I helped to welcome IU Northwest alumni back to our campus. Homecoming was a very enjoyable way to spend two Fall-Semester Saturdays.
The term Alma Mater, to describe the relationship with the college or university from which one graduated, did not originate in the United States, but it has become a distinctly American usage. Alma Mater carries at least two powerful meanings from the Latin: mother and nourishment. The idea of a nourishing mother is very resonant in the arts & sciences/liberal arts tradition in which I was educated and characterizes Indiana University’s disciplinary and curricular backbone. Nourishing, stimulating and encouraging the minds of our students (as well as our own along the way) represents the central commitment of my faculty colleagues and me.
But, beyond our own knowledge and excitement, one of the most important things that we have to share is helping our students to learn about how to keep learning when they are IU Northwest alumni. Learning to continue to learn is one of the most valuable and frequently-used skills that results from a college degree, which helps our alumni to make their ways in a complex, information-laden environment in which they can anticipate confronting continuous change across the dimensions of adult life. It is Alma Mater’s role to provide both the initial preparation and the continuing enrichment that are needed to successfully navigate our contemporary world.
Homecoming at IU Northwest means a great deal to many of us for a variety of reasons. It is, first of all, enjoyable to welcome and reconnect with former students. We also value alumni participation in the life of our campus community. It still matters to me, for example, that I am treated as an active member of the Michigan State University community. And there is another part of the American Homecoming tradition at IU Northwest: sports! When we visited Michigan State last month, we saw a football game (against the Indiana Hoosiers!). Homecoming at IU Northwest also features games by our men’s and women’s basketball teams (both contenders this year). In addition to being fun, I have always found that following college sports is another way to be identified and affiliated with Alma Mater and the universities where I have worked. Sports can help to create and maintain attachment between a university and its alumni community.
Homecoming remains an enjoyable tradition on college campuses, but among the things that give it substantive importance is that it is an annual opportunity to affirm the IU Northwest Mission and purpose, on-campus and among the extended community of alumni and friends. That affirmation recalls the meaning of Alma Mater and the role of the IU Northwest academic experience in continuing to nourish the enjoyment of exploring what is new and the challenge of learning during the course of lifetime.