Homecoming and “college spirit”

09-28-2006

MSU’s annual Homecoming weekend kicks off on Friday, September 29 with the traditional parade, this year featuring Kermit the Frog as Grand Marshal. I hope to see all of you out there celebrating Michigan State.

At its heart, homecoming is a tradition that’s rooted in the idea of gathering an extended community—reconnecting or making new connections, a time when we welcome neighbors, friends and alumni back to campus to celebrate our college spirit.

And while there’s always a football game as part of homecoming, the college spirit I’m talking about goes beyond simply cheering our Spartans on to victory. Kenyon L. Butterfield, who was president of our university from 1924-1928 said it well:

“College spirit is difficult to describe. It is a real thing but it is intangible. It may not always manifest itself in the same fashion.

“It seems to me that, in general, it may be said to be the community idea with the college as the concrete object of devotion, as over and against the personal and selfish interest. It is the expression of the thought not what I can get, but what I can give.”

That belief in one’s responsibility to the larger community is a powerful and enduring idea, in line with John F. Kennedy’s famous call to action in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

At the core, both remind us that being part of something larger than one’s self is a two-way street, and that each of us has a responsibility to the larger group of which we are a part. It’s a very land-grant idea.

Butterfield also noted a handful of characteristics that are important parts of college spirit. Among those are “a sense of honor” that’s concerned with upholding the high standards and reputation of the institution, “a spirit of co-operation which shows itself in willingness to work with other students, with alumni, with faculty, and with the trustees for progressive steps,” and “enthusiasm for college activities and college triumphs, not only in athletics, but in scholarship and in all the work of the institution.”

By Butterfield’s definition, true college spirit is the spirit of a land-grant university, based on a sense of community, built from collaboration and imbued with a sense of responsibility, extending beyond one’s individual wants and desires.

That’s a pretty good definition, one I think we all can take to heart and keep in mind this weekend as we celebrate not only our institution and its globe-spanning community, but the ideals that first brought it into being. We are the stewards, not only of MSU’s reputation today, but of its unique mission and values. While a victory in Spartan Stadium clearly rests on the shoulders of the MSU football team, a victory for Team MSU—not only on homecoming, but every day—rests with every member of the university community.

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