Judged by name only, Grambling State University is like any other institution of higher education in the country, a place where knowledge is acquired. But what sets Grambling apart is the unique dimension it adds, a dimension that characteristically reflects its motto: “a place where everybody is somebody.” Although some current students will be quick to tout the phrase as a mere cliche` that does not really reflect their day-to-day campus experiences, they will also be quick to speak highly of the academic preparation offered by the university. Some of them hold on to their convictions concerning the phrase until graduation.
Whatever happens thereafter can best be described as a transformational phase that recreates transparent memories of “Dear O Grambling,” what it stands for, and what it infused into their psyches. Successful or unsuccessful in their chosen careers, Grambling suddenly emerges in them as an insuperable presence that births a transparently bigger-than-life lifestyle.
The football game between GSU and the University of Pittsburgh was no different from any other. What was unique about the game was that it made possible an event that truly illuminated the Tiger Spirit. It was a simple event, an evening reception, sponsored by the alumni in Pittsburgh. Although it was scheduled to start at 8 p.m. on the eve of the game, several of the alumni were still engaged at other related activities such as the battle of bands. By about 10 p.m., there were about 75 people in the room.
Quite naturally, one would expect the event to be predominantly attended by members of the host alumni, but that was not the case. They came from all over the country to support their alma mater. For example, Ivan Adam came all the way from Los Angeles to cheer the G-Men. Fred Colston, a professional parliamentarian from the Washington, D.C. area, had to shut the doors to his business so he could be in Pittsburgh. Others came from Virginia, Alabama, and Georgia. Our home state of Louisiana was well represented with alumni from Alexandria, Farmerville, Grambling, Jonesboro-Hodge, Monroe, and Ruston.
Then there was attorney and professional musician Calvin Stemly, a 1976 music graduate, who graced the occasion with musical skills. The interesting thing was that he came with a friend of his, Kevin Howard, also a professional musician. Both of them were in Black and Gold colors, though Kevin was not a Gramblinite. Together, they did a marvelous job of entertaining the audience.
In that room were alumni representing all walks of life and various professional fields, yet any observer would be mesmerized by the noticeably transcendent spirit of camaraderie and commonness of purpose that spoke eloquently of Grambling as “a place where everybody is somebody.”
Informal as the occasion was, the president, Dr. Horace Judson, and Dr. Robert Dixon, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, were very visible, as they interacted, shook hands and chatted with the alumni. The importance of such informal events cannot be over-emphasized, because of the financial role of the alumni. Debra Johnson, director of Alumni Relations, set up a table with brochures and GSU paraphernalia at the entrance to the reception room. She was supported by Brenda Wilson, training specialist from the Office of Development, Glenda Jones, also of Alumni Relations, and Ralph Wilson from of the Office of Media Relations.
About halfway through the program, Dr. Judson delivered an informal speech in which he welcomed the alumni, and highlighted the accomplishments of his administration and the positive direction that the university heading. He spoke about the increased enrollment, the need to move the university into a premiere institution of higher education, whose graduates could compete successfully in the global economy. Finally, he encouraged the alumni for more financial support to enable him to actualize his goals.
The Pittsburgh experience speaks volumes about the profound connection between the GSU alumni and the university. That connection is deeply rooted in the academic foundation provided at the university, a foundation that blazed the trail to their careers and brought to realization the slogan that they might have chided as students.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Pittsburgh story, it is that once a Gramblinite, ever a Gramblinite. It is possible that, as students, some of the alumni who traveled to Pittsburgh might have touted the slogan. But with time, they soon realized the hypodermic-needle effect of the educational preparation that they received at GSU had instilled in them a never-to-be-forgotten lifestyle. That lifestyle is the result of the total Grambling experience rather than an experience from a single factor such as the band or athletics.
Grambling occupies a unique place among colleges and universities in the United States that compares to none other. That uniqueness is at the core of the effort of every administration, including Dr. Judson’s. The Spirit of “Dear O Grambling” lives on. As she continues to transform lives for the better, we are duty-bound to work together as students, faculty, friends, supporters and alumni, to proudly hold our heads high in sustaining the lifestyle resilience that truly makes GSU “a place where everybody is somebody.