“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” So goes the oft-quoted verse from Shakespeare’s immortal Romeo and Juliet. Romeo’s intentions here were to convince Juliet that names are nothing but social conventions, and that such earthly things should never get in the way of love. There is a part of each of them that remains uniquely theirs, even when people attempt to label it. You can add another one to the list of invaluable insights of history’s most famous playwright, but there may be more to a name than Shakespeare once thought.
In 1987, the university, still called Southwest Missouri State, was growing rapidly. Not surprisingly, our network of alumni was finding its numbers increase as well. As more people joined the SMSU family, it became clear that something was missing: a lifeline between students and alumni, a way for each group to interact, remain connected, and share their experiences. That’s when the idea of the Student Alumni Association (SAA) burst onto the scene. And the organization hit the ground running with an exclusive, hand-picked group of student leaders from every corner of campus.
It did not take long for the advisors and other members of the campus community to realize the benefits and the staying power of such an organization. What better way to solidify the fact that this is truly forever than for a student to see an alumnus making the journey back 50 years later, greeting his old friends as if they had never been apart? The positive outcomes are boundless for a university with a strong sense of pride and an extensive network of leaders that remain involved with their alma mater. Some leaders might be born, but most are made. SAA realized early on that developing leaders today meant having leaders to call on in the future.
As time passed, the university maintained its steady growth. By 2004, the centennial of the university’s founding was approaching, and an electrified new sense of pride and enthusiasm developed across campus. We needed a new name to accommodate our new spirit. In 2005, the name change to Missouri State University became official, but it didn’t stop there: I think it’s safe to say that this name change had an infectious power. This was undeniably true with SAA, where this new pride, along with the constant confusion caused by the SAA name (“How can you be both a student and an alumnus?”), and a mission to set itself apart all came together in a search for a new name.
In 2007, after months of gathering ideas from numerous conferences, SAA decided on a perfectly suited new name: R.E.A.L. Bears. Recruiting Emerging Alumni Leaders. That had been SAA’s mission from the beginning, so what better way to state its focus than to embody it in its name? Like the rose, R.E.A.L. Bears still “smelled” the same. It still looked for leaders on campus, worked closely with alumni, and learned the importance of staying connected. But I think Shakespeare missed one important thing about names: sometimes you begin to fit the name as much as the name fits you. Being true to the university, being “real” Bears, making things last—these were all a part of the new name, and thus, the new identity.
Jesse Speer; Springfield, Mo
Mathematics and Economics