I’m an alumna and I have $60,000 in student loans to prove it. To me, the word “alumni” is a prestigious, proud title that should only be reserved for people who actually accomplished something, i.e. completed college. Wikipedia even agrees with me…
Alumnus: An alumnus (masculine, plural alumni) or alumna (feminine, plural alumnae) is a former student or pupil of a school, college, or university. Commonly, but not always, the word refers to a graduate of the educational institute in question. An alumnus can also be a former member, employee, contributor, or inmate, as well as a former student. If a group includes both sexes, even if there is only one male, the male plural form alumni is used.
So based on the above summary, alumni doesn’t remotely capture the meaning of someone who is no longer a foster child. Also, youth didn’t graduate from foster care. They aged-out, or emancipated, which calls to mind a free-at-last slavery implication.
I don’t know where the label “Foster Alumni” came from – Google produced a cluttered response – but I can probably guess. Words have meaning and this alumni epithet was most likely a well-intended spin on how to address former foster youth. Because former foster youth have it tough on so many levels, and not just for those under the age of 25 – the popular age range for “advocates” – this alumni stamp was just a subtle attempt to de-stigmatize former foster youth.
Here’s why that calculated aim misses the mark: Alumni are traditionally proud of their alma mater and they went into their respective institution willingly. Hell, they, or their parents, paid a fortune for the privilege! Also, except for the burden of student loan debt, alumni are for the most part happy about their experiences in college. The same cannot be said about foster care.
Now let’s look at what the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says about veterans.
Veteran: Someone who fought in a war as a soldier, sailor, etc; someone who has a lot of experience in a particular activity, job, etc.
This summation is a lot closer to the true meaning of what it is to be a child growing up in foster care. Also, there is the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder effects and psychological warfare that unite military and former wards-of-state. Both groups had to valiantly fight front lines of their own and the government monitored all activity.
So, if there’s to be a title that more acutely defines former foster youth, it’s not Foster Alumni, it’s Foster Veterans. I have the internal battle scars to prove it.
Georgette Todd is also the author of “Foster Girl, A Memoir.” To submit questions for this weekly column, e-mail Georgette at: [email protected] and check out her official website, http://georgettetodd.wix.com/work.
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