In keeping with the theme of Seminal Readings, The Good Society, every society has traditions and cultures that come out of it, change it and in some cases, outlive it. Many of us are familiar with century-old traditions and customs of colleges and universities. From mascots to school songs and class colours, it’s one big package that becomes part of the collective identity of both the institution and its community. Alums remember chants and are able to identify each other in a crowd with a single word, class ring or gesture. But how often have we to stopped to think about the origins of these traditions? Who started them, why they did and how these customs have evolved over time.
It’s not everyday you get to make history and ALU is doing just that. Not just from an academic standpoint, but from a cultural one as well. Yes, there’s something grand about meeting an old institution with deep roots that span decades, people and events. However, there’s also something magical about being at the forefront of its creation. As founders of this inaugural institution, African Leadership College (ALC) in Mauritius and even ALU as a whole, we (students, staff, faculty, parents, stakeholders) are tasked with establishing what will eventually become century-old traditions, cultures and an ALU way of life.
Our students have come together from all across Africa to establish the first ever pan-African university experience. This is no easy task. However, from what we’ve seen, it is both a deliberate and organic goal. The deliberate part is easy. Companies and schools alike establish norms, mission statements and values that the community respect to maintain a certain environment and interaction between members of the community.
Traditions and customs are much more organic than a set of values. Sometimes it starts off with a single person writing some words about the school that catches on. Before you know it, someone else attaches a melody to it, people perform it at an event and it one day it becomes the official anthem. Other times, it’s a Open Mic session that a group of students organise that becomes a bi-monthly occurrence because one hour only once simply isn’t enough time for people to share the wealth of talent they possess.
Whatever the case may be, it often comes about as a result of a shared interest or passion that is transferable from one class or generation to the next. Generations to come apply to institutions partly because they identify with the traditions that create a sense of community- a community they want to be a part of. The reason these interests and passions are transferrable is as a result of the deliberate values established early on to attract like-minded individuals driven to achieve a common goal. A clear example of this is the ALU Student Assembly. The entire ALU community (students, staff and faculty) of various backgrounds, histories and experiences come together in this bi-monthly event to share ideas, reflect and have fun.
One might ask, “How do you establish values before the people even get there?” Well, that’s the beauty of values, traditions, customs and all the components that go into making a good society- they evolve over time.