Over the years, I have seen many misuses of the terms relegated to graduates of colleges and universities. I sometimes see stickers in car windows from reputable institutions of higher learning with an egregious mistake in verbiage embossed on the sticker, proudly proclaiming that the driver of a vehicle is a graduate of that particular school. I wonder what would be inscribed on the sticker if it were a driverless car. We would not be able to cast aspersions on the driver of a car from a certain institute of higher learning, associating the possible intelligence or knowledge or lack thereof gained from an association with that school. (I don’t believe robots go to school, or do they?)
I digress, so let’s get back to the main message intended in this note. Recently I saw a vehicle from a not-to-be-named university proudly proclaiming himself as an ‘alumni’ of a state college. Do you see the problem here? Alumni is the plural form of alumnus, and can either be male or female, so the driver of the car either has multiple personalities or is grammatically incorrect. If gender is important, as it is to some, and the driver is female (I don’t know the rule for any sexes other than male or female, and perhaps a suitable term has not been invented yet), one would use the term alumna. Alumnae is the plural form of alumna for females, while males are tagged with the term alumni.
Now for the grand finale. I was writing this message, and glanced at the mail I had just brought in. Could you believe that I had an ad for a new real estate agent, who proclaimed himself as a summa cum laude graduate in real estate and finance. He proudly proclaimed he was an alumni of a local university! With a college degree and ostensibly with high grades, which some think indicates superior knowledge and intelligence, which is not necessarily so, he might need to continue to educate himself. Having a college degree does not equate to having an education but only a degree. One writer in a prestigious literary group some years ago started his presentation, stating, “I completed my college degree, then I set out to educate myself!” My kind of man!