If I remember my Latin, “alma mater” means “beautiful mother.” In terms of where one went to school, I think we sometimes translate it as “foster mother” or maybe “nurturing mother.” In any case, the term connotes the special relationship with one’s school, esp. college.
A concept I sometimes have trouble explaining, especially to people who have “adopted” a team or teams from an institution they did not attend, is the difference between an alum and a mere fan. I have nothing against fans. Pulling for one team or the other is a big part of what makes sports exciting. However, I cheer for Tar Heel teams and want them to succeed, not so much because I am a fan, but because they represent the institution that was my home for four years as I evolved from a teenager into an adult. Yet the athletic programs of UNC (or UNC-CH, if you must) do not define my entire relationship with the University. Nor does my relationship with UNC, though significant, define my entire being.
I wear school colors when I attend games (just as I wear Hurricanes colors when I attend NHL games). At other times, when I happen to wear a light blue, it’s because that’s what came up in the rotation. And it likely is not Carolina blue. (That is a specific color on the Pantone chart, darker than your average light blue dress shirt. Similarly, the darker blue of a nearby institution is also specified on the chart and is lighter than Navy blue.) When I wear other colors, it’s for the same reason, not to make a statement. I drive a red car, not to show loyalty to the Hurricanes (or disloyalty to UNC), but simply because I like brightly-colored cars. So far as I know, no person or organization owns any color.
From time to time when someone learns I live in the Chapel Hill area, they assume that automatically means I am a UNC fan. I explain that there are people living here who went to various schools and pull for them. I go on to note that I am a UNC graduate and would be loyal to my alma mater wherever I lived. It’s not because I live here or, for that matter, because I once worked at UNC.
Some people seem to begin pushing their offspring toward their alma maters almost from birth. What we have tried to instill in our children is to find a college where they can have the kind of experience we did, wherever that might be. We even encouraged them not to go to UNC, but rather to get away from the place in which they had lived their entire lives to that point. Two ended up deciding on UNC. The reasons they decided to do so were compelling, but were not because of parental expectations.
It seems that the more loyalty one has to one’s own school, the less he/she needs to put down others’. That’s the “cheer for your team, not against the other” theory. I don’t think it builds up my alma mater to insult others. In fact, I think it may reflect badly on it.
I’m somewhat bemused by the individual who talks as if he/she thinks everyone should be fans of his/her team. What would it be like if everyone supported the same team? What would be the point in competition? Indeed, would there be any sports competition?
I know other people see things differently. This is just a brief outline of what I believe on this subject. I realize it means that I choose not to play some popular games (i.e., trash talking) others seem to enjoy. For that I do not apologize.
There are some places where you can get cut if you say something bad about someone’s mother. You won’t hear me say something bad about your alma mater, not however because I fear you will cut me, but simply out of respect. I hope others feel about their alma maters — especially undergrad, because that it such a formative time of one’s life — as I do about mine, regardless of where they live or work. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t.