I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2000. While I have always thought I received a great education from some of the best instructors and professors around, I always felt like something was missing from my college experience.
I’m sure it was mostly my fault. I never lived on campus. I wasn’t a part of the Greek system. I didn’t participate in many campus organizations or activities.
And these were all choices I made.
I wasn’t an antisocial person; I just did my socializing elsewhere. I didn’t even really think being so disconnected from campus was that big of a deal at the time. It seemed like a lot of fellow students acted similarly.
I remember it being called a “commuter school.” And there was definitely that kind of vibe — at least for me. Unlike many schools, where you couldn’t escape the college atmosphere unless you left the town, at South, you could just drive to your class, be there for an hour, then drive back off campus and be in a different part of Mobile (and in an entirely different world) in 10 minutes. And in some ways that was nice.
I worked at restaurants most of the time I went to school and many of my friends who are still my friends to this day were made while slinging hot crab dip and lobster bisque downtown, not in the library or a dorm on campus in West Mobile.
My “college memories” were made far away from and had nothing to do with my college.
Things turned out just fine and who knows where I would be if I had made a different choice. But I do get a little jealous or regretful when I hear my friends who went to schools in more traditional “college towns” talk about participating in their storied traditions — being on the Grove at Ole Miss, screaming their heads off in Death Valley, throwing toilet paper over the oaks at Toomer’s after a big win or going to the homecoming bonfire at Alabama.
I’m sure there were somewhat similar events to participate in at South even when I was there, but I just chose to sling more crab dip alongside my friends instead.
I told you this is my own fault.
Again, I am still grateful for the education I received at USA and my college years, but I have never felt a real strong connection to the school since graduation. And I have admittedly been an absolutely terrible alumna. I have never been to a single alumni event and do not own a shirt, bumper sticker, car tag, flag or keychain. I think I almost have had this feeling that since I never did any of that stuff in school, wouldn’t it be weird to start it now?
My husband would proudly tell our son about his college and ask him if he wanted to go there one day. I had never asked my son that question.
When they first started talking about starting a football team at South, I didn’t really have a strong opinion on it. I love football, but is it really that big of a deal one way or the other?
I didn’t learn just how big of a deal it was until last year, when I finally managed to take my family to our first Jags’ game. (I’m not sure why I didn’t realize this. All of those “storied traditions” I mentioned earlier all revolve around football.)
Even though it wasn’t a big game like the one last week, the atmosphere was fun and exciting. When they played the Jaguar howl (Is that what it is called?) over the loud speaker on first downs or big plays, my son just thought that was the coolest thing in the world. “What was that?” he asked.
“You know how they say ‘Roll Tide,” at daddy’s school, well this is what they say at mommy’s school,” I told him.
Truthfully, I think that was the first time I had ever taken any “ownership” in South since I graduated. But I was truly proud.
And for the record, he thought that was way cooler than “Roll Tide.”
I didn’t make it to the game last week, but the pride I felt for South grew even more. Though it sounds like there was a meltdown of epic proportions regarding water sales and concessions, the field and the team looked fabulous on television. We did the “Jaguar howl” (or cry or whatever it is) in our living room every time we had a good play.
On social media, I have never seen so many people posting about how proud they were of the University of South Alabama, their school.
I must have thought to myself a dozen or so times as I looked through my Facebook feed, “Oh I didn’t know he (she) went to South.”
Why? Because none of us ever talk about it.
One would think being a South grad is akin to being in Fight Club. The first rule of graduating from South is never telling anyone you graduated from South.
It’s not that we are ashamed, but what are we going to talk about? Our favorite professors from 15 years ago? How we wished we had had a bell tower when we were there?
That would be lame.
While our Alabama and Auburn friends and co-workers are constantly talking about coaching changes, trips to National Championships, Sugar Bowls or weekend treks to Tuscaloosa or the Plains, we are just nodding quietly or talking about whichever one of those schools we have adopted as our secondary alma maters.
That was until last week.
Last Friday afternoon, as everyone was sitting around Lagniappe talking about what we were going to do that weekend, I learned or was reminded over half of our full time employees are South grads. How did I not know or remember that? Oh yeah, because none of us ever talk about it!
But we did that day. “So when were you there?” and “Was the communication department still in the shopping center then (giggle)?” and other conversations like that occurred.
Talking about it at work and then later with another friend made me realize I had discounted my time there more than I should have.
And this realization came all because we were talking about a silly football game. Some may think that is just sad — what you can only feel proud of your school if there are a bunch of guys out on the field throwing a ball?
It’s not that at all though. It just creates a new camaraderie and something we can all pull for together and talk about around the water cooler. Man, that quarterback has a great arm!
For us older “commuter” Jags, it gives us a way to experience some of the things we missed out on.
And for the current students, I can only imagine what new “storied traditions” will emerge as they tailgate or experience big wins or haunting losses together.
Those are memories they will have for a lifetime. And they won’t even involve slinging hot crab dip.