Singing Alumni Relations Head Introduces Students to UB Traditions

Release Date: July 27, 2007 This content is archived.


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Graham Stewart, a professional singer as well as head of UB's Alumni Relations office, is greeting incoming freshman at orientation with the UB alma mater and fight song.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Incoming students at the University at Buffalo this summer are getting a lesson in UB pride and spirit -- as well as an introduction to the university's alumni association -- before they even step into a classroom.

Graham G. Stewart, UB's associate vice president for alumni relations, has resurrected a college tradition and is teaching the students and their parents to sing the UB alma mater and fight song as part of the 45-minute presentation that kicks off each of the eight, two-day orientation sessions being held for new students.

The project, which Stewart has undertaken at the invitation of Dennis R. Black, vice president for student affairs, and Barbara J. Ricotta, associate vice president and dean of students, marks the first time the UB alma mater has been introduced to students and parents as part of orientation. Moreover, it's the first time the head of the university's alumni relations office has had a role in welcoming new students to UB.

"I'm going to meet the entire freshman class this way," says Stewart. "It's a great opportunity for me to put a face to alumni relations and connect with a lot of generations…to be able to walk around campus and see some of these students, and have them recognize me from participating in their orientation program.

"I wanted to bring a higher profile to the alumni association and the work that we do," he adds, pointing out that appearing at orientation generates more awareness about the alumni association and helps to open a direct line of communication with incoming students interested in student-alumni activities ranging from career development programming to Oozfest, UB's annual mud volleyball tournament that is open to students and alumni.

"Maybe the last thing on their minds is becoming alumni," Stewart says, "but these young students are joining more than 200,000 people who have come through the university, and there's no reason to wait until graduation to take advantage of our programming."

Stewart is an accomplished singer and musician, as well as an experienced higher education administrator. His early career as a professional singer touring the Far East and performing in regional opera companies -- not to mention more recent stage time as the third-place champion in the 2004 International Whistling Competition and a trombonist in local performances -- serves him well when it comes to capturing the attention of a crowded auditorium.

His powerful solo performance of the alma mater at a recent orientation session -- after which students and parents were invited to join in -- prompted spontaneous applause from the audience and an enthusiastic, second-round sing-along.

UB's spirited school mascot, Victor E. Bull, also takes the stage to induce audience participation during these sessions, as do about 30 student orientation aides, who contribute considerable volume to the UB fight song. Lyrics are projected on a large screen above the stage in the Mainstage theater in the Center for the Arts on UB's North (Amherst) Campus.

"I think, to be honest, one of the things that made it possible for me to be involved in this is the fact that I could sing," says Stewart. "I'm glad I could use my talent to enhance an excellent orientation program. I'm not sure that my role in orientation would be as defined had I not been a singer. It adds a little extra value in that I might not be able to do it otherwise."

Teaching the alma mater to incoming students at orientation reintroduces a faded tradition to a new generation, he says.

"When UB was a smaller school, everyone was expected to know the song…It was something taught on the way in that was sung before every event," he says. "Frankly, UB had lost that tradition, so this is a great opportunity."

The alma mater also has been reintroduced at other university-wide celebrations, including UB's annual Celebration of Academic Excellence and commencement ceremonies, he says. UB Bulls fans continue to hear the music performed before campus sporting events.

"We did it at commencement and again here at orientation, so it's on the bookends of students' academic careers now," Stewart says. "The campus is starting to infuse it throughout the year."

Stewart has been pleased by the positive response to the song from students and parents attending the orientation sessions.

"I'm impressed that most of the parents and students are doing their best to learn it," he says. "It sounds like a good group of folks giving their best shot…I hear a wall of good noises coming at me."

A central theme of the overall orientation program is UB traditions and history, he explains. The more students learn about their place in the more than 160 years of traditions, events and graduates that make up the university, the more there is to tie them together as a class and as future alumni, he notes.

"It's something that's important because this is something that every graduate shares," says Stewart. "There have been several studies done on tradition and what it means to students and alumni, and it does build pride in the university."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 27,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.