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Guest Column: For All the Leaders and Best

The fall 2021 issue is the first in the long history of this magazine to announce a name change. Alumni Association President and CEO Steve Grafton explains the motivation behind the change: a wish to include all alumni who are proud of their connection to the University.
By Steve Grafton


Read time: 2 minutes

There is so much of our Alumni Association about which I am proud, and right up near the top of that list is its magazine, which our members often cite as their favorite benefit of membership. Personally, I believe it is appreciated so much because it has always been committed to telling the whole story of our University and its people.

In the 127 years since Alvick A. Pearson, then a recent graduate of the University, published the first issue of Michigan Alumnus, the magazine has kept the alumni community up to date about their beloved alma mater. That has been a constant.

Also constant has been the name of the publication, which reminds readers of the work they put forth as students at the University in order to attain their hard-earned degree.

However, times change, and I’m grateful to be part of a university and an alumni association that is not too proud to embrace necessary change.

Because the word “alumnus” is the singular, male version of the noun, by definition it excludes others who are equally proud of their connection to the University. This exclusion has led to much soul searching for Alumni Association staff and volunteer leaders in recent months.

Last year, we began to contemplate the possibility of a new name, one that pays tribute to both the history and tradition of the magazine’s name but is more inclusive of all those who attended the University of Michigan. During this process, we reached out to members of the alumni community, and (unsurprisingly) many were very forthcoming with their opinions about changing the name—as well as some who argued for keeping it.

We also consulted with others on campus who were happy to share their expertise. Among them was Anne Curzan, the dean of LSA and a noted expert on the history of the English language. She helped me understand that evolution of language is normal (think “lab” for “laboratory” and “exam” for “examination”).

GraftonSo we decided it was finally time to move to a more inclusive name—one that aligns with the Association’s overall emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. The result is a new name for our quarterly magazine and its monthly newsletter companion: Michigan Alum. If the name strikes you a little oddly, I get it. It did for me as well.

With time, though, I foresee the continuing evolution of language and the acceptance of the word “alum,” which might now seem informal, as our society strives to include all of its members. And, once again, your alumni association and its award-winning magazine are at the forefront, this time leading the way for all the leaders and best.

Steve Grafton is the president and CEO of the Alumni Association.

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