Who’s Got That School Spirit?? Not Me. (A Featured Post on Brazen Careerist.)

In high school, I was voted the one with the most school spirit.

It was one of the greatest ironies of my life so far. I had no school spirit. I went to a terrible high school and took every chance to explain as much. To this day I am convinced that awarding me that superlative was a class joke on me, though I’ve never been sure who orchestrated it.

The point is, I’ve never understood the idea of school spirit. Not for its own sake at least.

Starting from about 6th grade and continuing up through college, I had almost nothing of what they call school spirit, despite official pleas and efforts to establish same in the student bodies of which I was a member at any given time. My least favorite week of the year tended to be “Spirit Week”, where everybody expressed their alleged school spirit by painting their faces, wearing school sweatshirts, or going to that most loathed of compulsory social events, (yes, we were made to go in high school) the Pep Rally. I never wanted to go to these damn things, and thankfully in college I could and did, opt out.

“But it’s your school,” cheerleaders and even staff members would sometimes tell me. “That’s your team out there.”

Is it? Does the win/loss record of a basketball team affect my personal reasons for getting an education in even the slightest ways? Does what I do in class in any way affect their game? No on both counts, so it is hardly “my” team. But back to school spirit.

There is much more to a school than a sports team. Yet pep rallies and school spirit are almost always centered around the sports. You hoot, clap and holler for all of the members of your school sports teams, whom you have not met, and probably will never talk to in most cases, while girls in short skirts shake things for them. And if you are a fan of sports, or do in fact know the team players, that’s great for you.

Yet the cheerleaders, the athletes, and in most cases the staff and faculty would never be found at the opening nights of any of the school plays, or in the churches for the school choir concerts. Would they be moved to do so by a plea that, “It’s your chess team? It’s your debate club”? I am willing to bet in the negative in most cases.

Sports attendance in schools I think is merely the most convenient, public way for people to prove they are towing some kind of line. Which is why I think many staff and faculty members who haven’t the least interest in sports end up at homecoming games and other major tournaments in such large numbers. And schools count on such a conflation between the excitement of sports events, and the overall quality of the entire school to distract people from actual pressing problems that are pertinent to the school’s stated mission. Such distraction never worked for me.

But in the end it’s not only about the sports favoritism that is inherent in almost all school spirit activities. I wouldn’t fault a school for having an active athletic program, (so long as they are surpassed by the educational aspects of the school.) But for me to feel any kind of “spirit” for an institution, I need to feel that the whole is putting as much effort into my well being as I am putting into it. None of my schools ever did this, and I find it next to impossible to manufacture spirit ex nihlio for an institution that doesn’t reciprocate the effort in anyway.

I was just a number whose problems were shoved aside, ignored, or mocked in some cases. Attempts to point out weaknesses with the system were met with censorship. Any attempts to innovate were squelched. Only half the time did the various staff members extend even an adequate level of energy to insure my educational experience was tolerable. At virtually no point did anybody go beyond their obligations to make my education memorable, even after repeated pleas from myself and others. It was, in most cases all about going along to get along, which a school, if nowhere else, should avoid. My schools didn’t.

In short, my various schools never gave the slightest indication that they would bend over backwards to help students live better and learn more about becoming authentic citizens of the world. Yet most students still painted their faces, wore the sweatshirts, crafted the signs, and participated in all the requisite behavior that “school spirit” entailed. Even when I knew personally they were getting screwed by the administration in the exact same ways I was. Mind boggling then, mind boggling now.

Think of all the school has given you,” some former colleagues would say.

My response is that I never felt obligated to be grateful when my school managed to barely accomplish the very goals of a school; educating me. Something I paid them handsomely to do anyway.

I have heard the assertion that it does the individual good to show loyalty, (spirit) towards an institution of which they are a member, regardless of the circumstances. That the very act of expressing school spirit has positive effects for one’s own spirit, and for one’s reputation, within the institution. And there is no doubt that ass kissing gets certain people a certain distance. But I can’t stomach it. Never could.Even if it is “just what you do” when you’re a student.

In the end, I am not against school spirit as a concept. In fact one of my biggest regrets in life is that I never attended an educational institution that deserved my loyalty. I would love to know what it feels like to go whole hog in support of a community of which I am a member. I am astonished by people who continue to support their colleges decades after they graduate. Those who feel so moved by their experiences when a student that they go to the homecomings every year and visit their old dorm rooms.

To have that much appreciation for a place is foreign to me. Probably why I am not a member of any alumni association. Probably why I have never been back to my college campus, and don’t intend to go back anytime in the near future. The schools mean nothing to me now that I am gone. They barely meant anything when I was there. But not because I chose it to be that way. Rather, because I am no good at one-way investments.

I like to hope that this lack of attention to students is not universal. That for me it was just a matter of bad luck that I always picked the wrong schools. Indeed, everytime I chose a school, literally, they announced some massive years long realignment plan that was designed to totally change or expand the school into something it was not. Perhaps if I had attended each of my schools in a time before they were struck with the notion to totally rebuild, I might have felt loyal to them. But it was not to be for me.

I hope that my future children feel they can fall in love with their schools. It seems to be such a potent, rewarding feeling for so many that I envy in a way.  Perhaps if I ever go to graduate school as an old man I can show school spirit for that.

But still no pep rallies. Too noisy.

Did/do you have sincere school spirit for your high school/college/grad school? Tell me about it. I want to know how it feels.


  1. I'm afraid that I can only share your sentiments exactly. I dropped out of Prospect Hall during the first week of my senior year due largely to the phenomenon which you describe. My university experience wasn't quite as bad, but I got really sick of not even being able to voice mundane, half-hearted daily gripes without being attacked.

    “Man, I wish the caf had a little more variety,” was often met with…
    “This is be BEST university cafeteria I have EVER seen and you are LUCKY to be here.”

  2. It took a bit of distance for me to appreciate the values instilled in me by my school. I think I had to grow up first to see that I do have that spirit you write about. I sent my daughter to the same school even though I was sure I would not when I left there. She has graduated now and her experience there was almost identical to my own. I have some spirit for the universities I have attended in that I love to meet other graduates and discuss our shared experiences. That's it.

    I don't know that many students fall in love with their schools. They might fall in love with the tradition of the place. If I was Harvard educated I would no doubt have a fierce spirit, but I went to small schools and universities that were neither the worst nor the best.

  3. I never understood the idea of “school spirit” as a kid. I hated my junior high and high school. But when I finally escaped to college, I understood right away. I was fortunate enough to attend two schools–Chabot Community College in Hayward, CA and San Francisco State University–where I encountered many excellent teachers who offered not only a fantastic education but some much-needed empathy and guidance. I still dream of going back to State for my advanced degree someday.

    A random thought: I see school spirit as a manifestation of the impulse that makes us cheer for sports teams and affiliate passionately with the geographic area in which we happen to live. Human beings evolved to be tribal. Affiliation with a tribe meant survival and ability to create progeny. Feeling like a part of something, I think, is a desire that's programmed into our brains.

  4. Erik: I didn't know you ever went to Prospect Hall. That was wear I went as well.

    Heather: Good point about it being the tradition that some fall in love with. And I wanted that to be true for me to, quite a bit. Three previous generations of my maternal line had gone to my college. But that was decades before I showed up, and it really was basically a different place by then.

    Lori: Good point about the tribal tendencies. I think one of the main reasons I have not yet felt that loyalty is that the tribal instinct in me is actually quite weak. It's true for my whole family. I am not yet sure if that has been a strength or weakness over the years.

  5. Ah, high school, those days that I hated dearly. The only reason I could claim to have school spirit is because I sat on the bench of the high school basketball team. No bitterness there — I sucked and I should have been on the bench. But I hated my high school and couldn't wait to get out.

    After high school, I attended Louisiana Tech University and loved it. I can honestly say that I had school spirit (and still do) when it comes to my alma mater. Louisiana Tech was my school. I chose to go there, and I chose to go there because I wanted to be there. So many people on campus wore LSU stuff and it pissed me off dearly.


    I really enjoyed your post and feel that you made some great points. I am a sports fan, but there's no doubt that sports do get an unfair amount of attention. Why? Because they're sexy, compared to academics.

    As I said, I love my alma mater. But I don't blame you at all for feeling the way you do.

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