Being a Marquette native, I have heard my fair share of negative sentiments about attending Northern Michigan University.
Local colloquialisms like “Northern: where the N stands for knowledge” or “UCLA: University Closest to Lincoln Avenue” make Northern seem less reputable than it actually is.
This lack of pride in NMU is evident when talking to some students. Because NMU is a “right-to-try” university — meaning NMU believes students with low ACT scores and high-school GPAs should be given a chance to reinvent themselves in college — many students associate the ease of admissions with a poor quality of education or institutional reputation.
I know I did when I enrolled at NMU after discovering I could not afford Michigan State University’s high cost of tuition.
I discovered, though, that MSU would have crippled me financially, and the program I had intended to enroll in — astrophysics — was not my forte, despite my passion for the sciences.
After changing my major sophomore year, I had to ask: what does it mean to be a Wildcat?
The North Wind’s “Sound Off” section posed the question “Do students have school spirit?” to eight students on campus. While eight randomly selected Wildcats does not provide a university-wide consensus, the uniformity of the answers was telling.
Most associated school pride with athletics, such as the performance of the hockey or football team.
School pride does not hinge on athletic performance but instead on the integrity of the academic institutions available to students in order to provide a sound education.
I am proud of NMU athletes, but I do not shoulder the burden of school pride on their shoulders, as toned and fit as they may be.
School pride rests in the accomplishments of each and every NMU student. Students should be proud to attend a university that has attracted the attention of President Barack Obama for our outstanding WiMax program and proud to live in such a beautiful environment.
Programs at NMU have gained national recognition and top rankings, such as education and art and design.
At the most recent Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) conference, NMU’s Superior Edge program was presented an Excellence Silver award.
These few facts do not define what it means to be a Wildcat but are a testament to the strong character Northern has on a national level.
Being a Wildcat is more than awards and athletics — it is about the collective character of NMU students.
Unlike other universities in America such as Harvard, Standford and University of Columbia, NMU’s name does not carry the weight and reputation of the Ivy League giants.
NMU does not define its students with name recognition, and this is a remarkable thing.
Students define NMU. Because NMU is a small liberal arts college, it often goes under the radar. When students graduate, it is through their merit and accomplishments that NMU gains its notoriety. But the returns do not start after graduation.
At any university, students get what they put into to their own education. If you do the bare minimum in college, chances are your degree will not be as valuable as one held by a student who was more involved on campus and did unrequired research and reading.
Perhaps it is those apathetic students who passively learn instead of actively engaging in classroom discussions and reading not pertaining to their in-class curriculum.
After eight semesters at NMU, I have come to a personal conclusion about what it means to be a Wildcat.
A Wildcat is a student who thrives in their academic environment.
A Wildcat will spend countless hours in the library reading JSTOR articles or reading back-issues of periodicals in order to research for a paper or a class discussion.
A Wildcat is a predator of opportunity that will pounce on a chance to grow intellectually, emotionally and professionally.
Identifying with your school allows you to further tap the vein of prestige and promise.
NMU students can complain about their university or they can channel that energy into making NMU an institution students can be proud of by vying for personal academic success.
NMU may be a “right-to-try” school with low entrance requirements, but it is a place students should appreciate. Attending NMU is not a right, by any means, but a privilege.
Ask yourself what it means to be a Wildcat. Try to become more involved in your studies and campus community.
Remember that you are responsible for NMU’s reputation even after graduation.
And that is the beauty of being a Wildcat: even after you leave, you’ll be defining the school that fostered your professional growth. That is truly something to be proud of.
Editor’s Note: This column is a part of a month-long series discussing human identity and how it pertains to conflicts within and between cultures.