The good, the bad and the ugly of alumni associations
I think the success of any school
can be measured by the contribution
the alumni make to our national life
– John F. Kennedy.
Renew your youth as you share the Good Times together
– Anne-Funmi Fatusin (2019).
There is a growing trend of establishing Alumni Associations, which is a very laudable initiative. Some people belong to several – Secondary School (‘O’ Levels), High School (‘A’ Levels), Universities, Business Schools, Medical Schools, Law Schools, etc. The motivation for coming together is hinged on shared values, passion and the quest to unite with old school/course mates. All came from different backgrounds and had to imbibe certain values projected by the various learning institutions as ‘socialisation agencies.’ Such values as hard work, devotion, time consciousness, neatness, discipline and community spirit were all learned, particularly in the boarding schools. However, these shared values should not be misconstrued with personal attributes and principles such as character, conduct, and beliefs attained when at an impressionable age. This is because people would have mature over the years due to varied experiences, exposure, self-actualisation, social status, etc. all of which have shaped the mind-sets.
People have different reasons for joining Alumni Associations ranging from business opportunities, rebuilding relationships with old friends, meeting new friends, catching up on old gist (trying to find out what happened to so-and-so person during an incident), and perhaps, if a singleton, in search for someone with whom to have a relationship. Others join because they found out that their previous boy/girlfriend at school is now unattached. Due to the advent of Social Media, Alumni Associations form groups on Facebook and WhatsApp. These two platforms are often ‘playgrounds’ for posting information diverse such as politics, religion, past school activities, photographs, jokes, etc. Unfortunately, some members abuse the social network groups to rein insults and/or bully one another. There are some posts one would read which would make one to question if the authors displaying unpalatable behaviour actually attended the same institution with the rest of the rest of the civilised group members. As the saying goes – ‘the fingers are not equal’. Some are in privileged positions more than others but the veritable pomposity displayed in front of their peers, is often perceived as an act of inferiority complex and insensitivity. There are some schoolmates with whom one loses contact and after several decades, friendship develops almost immediately, filling the missing gaps. Some friendships were reunited via Facebook – an extremely useful platform if used appropriately. Similarly, there are some old school mates one never wants to have any relationship with because they are just too toxic or because their level of thinking is so different. One can only but thank Facebook and WhatsApp for introducing the ‘block’ button! Better still, some can choose to ignore posts that are nauseating and annoying. Unfortunately, some capable of making positive developments to the Alumni Association, exit the group out of frustration.
The expression – ‘Seniority is not forever’ – is so true. Seniors at secondary school were seniors, obviously because they had already been in the school before the juniors even though they could be younger in age for their class. As the years roll by, someone who was once a senior could become a very close friend to a junior that they address each other by first names – no more ‘Sis’ or ‘Bros’ or ‘Senior X’. The concept of senior/junior relationship, has a tendency to be carried for life. Some juniors may not want to respect this time-honoured tradition. This lack of respect is usually unacceptable to females who attended all-girls school. Some female seniors will be quick to reprimand the juniors by reminding them that they are ‘not age mates’ whilst others will cleverly avoid the juniors. Age has been very kind to some that they still look much younger than their age. With others, their philosophy is ‘big is evidence of good living’. They therefore expect their mates to accord them so much respect.
There are some whose past time during secondary school days was to bully their school mates. Ignorantly, they still display such uncouth behaviour in adulthood. There was an incident where some men were insulting one another in their group email. The situation later turned into a joke when the man being ‘bullied’ said ‘I have never liked you since the day you came to school in new Clarks sandals and was showing off to everyone!’. These men were Septuagenarians (in their late 70s)! Similarly, there was a group of girls, which used to terrorise during their school days. However, it is rather pathetic that even though they are now in their 50s, continue with their bullying behaviour by recruiting some of their juniors to gang fight within their Alumni Association; against those perceived to oppose any proposals put forward at their meetings.
There were three categories of students during secondary school days – Exceptionally brilliant (including Head Girl/Boy) students who unwittingly evinced love-and-hate amongst their classmates in the school, the Fighter (always fighting with seniors & classmates, being rude to teachers), the Sporty (always representing the school at sports) and the Religious individual (member of the Scripture Union/Muslim Student Society).
There is fun in joining the Alumni Associations because some people it is nostalgic to be known as the ‘Best Dancer on Lit Day’ or ‘Best Student from Debating Society’ or the ‘Best Student at X Sport’. At some parties, one just has to see the way some people dance and would definitely surmise they were once ‘dancing champions’ during their secondary school days. An Alumnus from a popular Boys’ school in Lagos said he promised his daughter that he would do the ‘Michael Jackson’s moonwalk’ on her wedding day, even if it meant ending up taking medication for pain. Some associations have had a collaboration of sports, debates and dance competitions. It is a beauty to behold when one sees some of the adults in their old school uniforms with the body contours already going south!
Alumni Associations also provide a platform for mobilisation of support for their members at social functions such as marriages, funerals, birthdays, weddings and other occasions including house warming. Some also provide financial and material support as well as succour for their members who have experienced bereavement or their children turned orphans. In addition, they also raise funds for the renovation of their Alma Mater where buildings and infrastructure have almost collapsed. Indeed, such renovations are perhaps the only ones ever visited on the schools since the members graduated from them decades ago.
Establishing and sustaining an Alumni Association is like a potpourri. People with different mindsets, orientation, idiosyncrasies, ideologies, intentions, etc. No Alumni Association is without its flaws or internal strife. Exposing internal contretemps is nothing but a sign of immaturity, which creates a negative image for the Alumni Association – not just the individuals involved. Even though no one is being paid for their contributions, some members will disrupt any meaningful projects for self-gratification. Others will engage in character assassination in order to be relevant, to the point of distorting foundation of their association’s existence and arrogating powers to themselves. The key is to manage the Association with maturity and ensure that like-minded people with positive philosophies, are the key stakeholders – Executive Officers. However, in order to make it all-inclusive, ‘old students’ cannot be refused membership but there must be ground rules and/or objectives, which should be part of the Association’s Constitution. It is also important that Alumni Associations maintain organic links with their respective schools so that they can engage and monitor development of their previous learning institutions. This is with a view to always ascertaining precise ways the schools/institutions could be assisted.
The beauty of having an Association is when it has an enduring legacy. Some School Alumni now engage in ‘Give Back’ to their Alma Mater. They donate laboratory equipment, books, tables, chairs, organise mentorship programmes, building projects, etc. Some Associations practise the ‘Old Boys Network’ as they help one another’s children to secure gainful employment. Several boys’ secondary schools have reputation for always supporting each other, and the camaraderie becomes stronger when some of them proceed to the same Universities. They are mainly found in the top echelons of the society, captains of industry and in government.
To conclude, there is no doubt, Alumni Associations have come to stay. It is important that their roles are recognised as partners in the development of education in Nigeria.
Fatusin is an Alumna of Reagan Memorial Baptist Girls’ Secondary School, Lagos, a freelance writer, inspirational speaker, compere, social commentator, wrote from the United Kingdom.
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