Intervene Skillfully

It’s all Greek to me. No, actually it’s Latin. I’m talking about the word “alumni.”

If you’ve completed a Kansas Leadership Center program, we currently refer to you as being one of our “alumni.” This label has been raising eyebrows and keeping a few of us awake at nights, including myself. We wonder if the word alumni misrepresents what we aspire to, which is a relationship of continued growth and learning with KLC after a participant completes a program.

So I go to dictionary.com and find the following: 

An alumnus is “a male graduate or former student of a school, college, or university.” You’re an alumna if you’re a woman. Alumni is the plural form of alumnus, and also includes alumnae, the plural form of alumna. That’s a lot of Latin.

The challenge is that we aren’t a traditional school, college or university. But we do believe leadership can be learned. So participants may feel educated by KLC. One difference seems to be that we aspire to an ongoing relationship of learning, experimenting and sharing with our participants.  And that feels different than a relationship between a traditional educational venue and a student, where you graduate with a degree to go out on your own to do great things. We want to be right there with you as you do them in leadership.

I recently talked with a very active past KLC participant recently who says, “I see myself as an ambassador for KLC.” But not everyone sees themselves that way. There are other varying levels of experience and investment among past participants, in part because the breadth of KLC’s programming provides lots of different kinds of experiences.

But labels tell us a lot about how we fulfill in our roles in a given situation. Communities have citizens. Elected officials have constituents. Business have associates or employees. Churches have members, but they also see everyone as a child of God. The most effective labels, my friend says, are the ones that “seem inclusive.” 

KLC aspires to have open arms with all our current and former participants for the purposes of continued learning, experimenting and sharing as we make more progress for the common good of Kansas. Maybe the word alumni is the right way to define the members our KLC family, maybe not.

What do you think the right word is? We’re interested in hearing your perspective. 

Lynda Wilkinson serves as the Director of Alumni Engagement for the Kansas Leadership Center. She has more than 20 years experience in organizational and non-profit management.