So many people look back on their college experience and say, “those were the best four years of my life.” Why? It probably has something to do with whatever caused me to pay $25 for a water bottle with my school’s name on it just so people would know what school I attend when I go to the gym; the same thing that gives me a little flutter of excitement when I happen across someone else wearing a shirt or hat with my school’s name on the street. This “thing,” is the sense of belonging and devotion to a place that shapes the rest of our lives in just four short years. It is our affiliation, not to what our parents believe is a school they are sending us to, but a cult.
A “cult” isn’t just a term for fanatics of a certain belief system, it is by definition “a situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much; a great devotion.” Some characteristics include: unquestioning commitment, elitism, polarized us-versus-them mentality, encouragement or requirement of membership to live and/or socialize with other group members and recruit new members.
Many of us who attended or currently attend schools with enormous alumni networks and national followings, such as the University of Michigan (hypothetically … of course) have likely experienced one or more of the above. Unquestioning commitment to the “winningest” football team in the NCAA (even when they don’t win) – check; elitist theory that we are the “leaders and the best,” – check; living and socializing with other group members, be it freshman dorms or at the local Michigan bar – check; polarized us-versus-them (the infamous Michigan-OSU rivalry – check; and efforts to recruit new members – well, the Michigan Wolverine baby onesies speak for themselves.
Every college is its own little (or big in some cases) community, one with its own language and customs that are completely perplexing, and sometimes unknown, to the outside world. All joking aside, however, our affiliation to “college cults” isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Our unconditional love for our schools teaches us loyalty, while living alongside our fellow classmates and peers produces lifelong bonds (or learning to tolerate and be respectful of others). And as for elitism – a little confidence never hurt anybody (especially during those post-undergrad job interviews). Our affiliation to a place and to an institution that lasts far beyond four years not only shapes us, but also gives us another place to call home, a friendly face at the office or in a new city, friends and colleagues that will always support us.