I conducted a funeral today for a MSU alumnus and lifelong Spartan fan. There was a Spartan flag draped across the casket. The family talked about their dad attending the Frozen Four and the Rose Bowl. They made mention of him watching basketball games with his neighbor. He saw some of the great Spartan players - Magic Johnson, Steve Garvey and the like.
At one point in the service they played the MSU alma mater, "MSU Shadows." It was amazing to watch the congregation. Tears that had been held in for most of the service flowed as the lyrics of the song brought back memories - not just of Mr. Stewart - but for his children and grandchildren who are fellow State alums.
It made me think about my Alma Mater, Great Lakes Christian College. I don't ever recall seeing anyone get misty-eyed as they sang, "'Neath the azure dome of Heaven . . ." There is something visceral and palpable about the love that State fans have for their university that seems to be missing among my generation of GLCC grads.
I think I might know at least one reason why. I play basketball with John who works for the University. About a month ago John had to miss a game - something he almost never does. When he showed up the following week I asked him where he had been. He told me that each year, when incoming Freshman arrive on campus, John gives a talk. Because there are thousands of freshmen, John gives the talk dozens of times. I've since learned that "the talk" is legendary. The title: "What it Means to be a Spartan." John shares MSU traditions with the students. He explains to them that they are inheriting a legacy, and that they are keepers of this legacy for succeeding generations of Spartan alums. MSU has such profoundly loyal alumni because, in part, they learn to love the university the very first week they are on campus.
I don't recall ever hearing a talk titled "What it Means to be a Crusader." To be sure, I learned something of what it means to be a GLCC alumnus. Indeed, I do tear up when I sing the Alma Mater because I recall Dr. Brant Lee Doty, its author. I wonder, though, if this year's freshman even know the song. (State Freshman are required to learn theirs.) I wonder if they have heard of Dr. Doty or if he is just another faceless name, a bit of trivia, or a post-card thought that some of their alumni parents occasionally mention.
My wife and I and many others have bemoaned the anemic alumni involvement at our college. Frankly, there have been instances where we contributed to that problem. I am wondering, though, if part of the solution begins by teaching incoming freshman just how special a legacy they're entrusted with. By reminding them that they're receiving a gift from the college and that the time will come when they'll be expected to give back in equal measure . . .