Is Your Alma Mater A Major Part of Your Identity?

I was on Twitter earlier today, looking at the people followed by someone I follow. I’ve been using Twitter more and more these days, mostly because I get to say a sentence or two without all my Facebook friends later mentioning it in person*. Anyway, I was looking through all these names, and a couple of the people were still in college. Unlike those no longer in college, some of these students mentioned only their class year and school in their description, i.e. Susan Smith, Jefferson HS ’10 Rutgers ’14.

This is okay, of course. You can write whatever you want in your little Twitter description box. It just got me thinking – it’s been a very long time since I’ve defined myself by where I attended school. College or otherwise.

In my personal life, Dickinson College is almost an after thought. More important in defining me, I think, are where I grew up (Minnesota), what I like to do in my spare time, the fact that I graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa and a semester early**. When I was still in school my major, my work-study jobs, the books or shows I was watching, the classes I was taking, and the extracurricular activities I was participating in were far more important parts of my identity than Dickinson College itself. It may have shaped the opportunities that shaped me, but I don’t see a strong connection between who I am today and Dickinson as an institution.

Even in my professional life my alma mater takes a back seat. That I graduated from Dickinson College is on my resume, as is that I graduated 1st in my class from my high school, but more important are the three work-study jobs I had, the secularist group I started and ran, and the many newspaper op/ed articles I wrote. In my mind, the last line of my resume listing a few of my hobbies is more important than the words, “Dickinson College” in telling others who I am.***

It’s not that Dickinson is a bad place or that I’m intentionally trying to distance myself from it (unless I’m doing so subconsciously), but that I didn’t really identify or connect with the school. It was a place to go for learning and earning a degree. It didn’t ever feel like home, and while I certainly changed in college, I don’t think that Dickinson specifically had a lot to do with that.

I guess my point is that it’s interesting to see people who choose, as their brief introduction on Twitter, simply the names of the high school and college they attend(ed) and their graduation years, when those things are so very low on the list of what I would want to tell people. It’s certainly partly a function of where they are in life. What about you? Did you ever strongly identify with your school or alma mater?

*I swear this didn’t start happening until a year or two ago. Before that I could write whatever I wanted on fb without people talking to me in person mentioning a random sentence I wrote weeks ago. Now I try not to talk too much about my actual day-to-day life because too many people bring up (in person) things I mentioned on facebook like they know all about it. Helloooo, I only wrote one sentence!

** I’ll let you decide if I’m bragging.

**That’s not to say that the words “Dickinson College” aren’t important parts of others’ perception of me. Just not important in my mind.

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2 thoughts on “Is Your Alma Mater A Major Part of Your Identity?

  1. Jimi says:

    I do know simply for the fact that as an adult college student, I am 38, I am very proud of the fact I have gone back to college and am doing so well. As a student in high school, while intelligent, I was not a performer, something I deeply regret now.

    • It sounds like you identify with being a student, which makes a lot of sense. It certainly is an important part of one’s identity if one are actively attending an institution of learning. I guess I’m more curious about whether or not people identify specifically with the school they attend. Does that make sense? I mean, being a student was a very important part of my identity, but being a student at Dickinson College was not.

      Also, I’m glad you’re doing well. It is really awesome that you went back to school. I hope it’s very rewarding – both after you achieve your goal (not sure if you’re going for a 2 or 4 year degree or a certificate) and while you are in the process of learning. I think a lot of people in high school don’t realize how much more they could be getting out of their high school education – unfortunate but understandable.

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