Graduates of Wayne State University aren’t usually the rah-rah type of alumni. I’ve never seen a Wayne State flag flying from anyone’s porch. And it’s not that we haven’t had any NCAA Division I Champions. It’s just that Fencing doesn’t generate the same passions as that of Football and Basketball.
Wayne has traditionally been a commuter school. Most of the students pay their own way which means they are working while earning degrees. That was my experience. At commencement the temptation is to think – I got this degree in spite of you, Wayne State – not because of you.
Last Friday I was invited to participate in a gala ceremony in which Wayne State closed out it’s observance of it’s sesquicentennial. That’s 150 years. While it’s true that the Detroit Medical College was established in 1868 some purists believe the University didn’t really begin until 1917 when Detroit School Superintendent David Mackenzie founded the Detroit Junior College in the former Central High School Building now know as Old Main. The Detroit Medical College became part of the university later. The argument goes; “Imagine that your grandparents came to this country from Italy in 1920. But then your brother married someone who’s ancestors came on the Mayflower. Would you start saying your family came over on the Mayflower?” Older is better, I guess.
I’m certainly not saying I don’t have fond memories of Wayne State. I attended Monteith College which was a much smaller College within the University much like James Madison on the Michigan State University Campus. Monteith’s theory was that there is a body of knowledge that every educated person should possess regardless of your major or specialization. Our first two years consisted of many required courses in social science, natural science and humanities. They were taught in college wide lectures followed up with small discussion sections. We had the best of both worlds. A small college community on a large University campus.
I was also able to extend my formal affiliation with Wayne from four years to twenty. After graduation I was elected to the University’s Board of Governors and served two eight year terms.
Which is why I was invited to the gala on Wayne’s Campus last Friday. From time to time the Governors Emeriti are invited to sit on the stage for events and serve the same decorative purpose as the potted plants. But I usually accept these invitations. It’s nice to stay in touch.
I was moved by the photos and personal histories of students and facility. I was the first in my family to go to college – and higher education would not have been accessible if not for Wayne State University. That’s the case with hundreds of thousands of others over the past 150 years.
I also discovered Wayne State now has it’s own hand signal.