OPINION: Portland Proud

By Jen Williams | September 3, 2019 7:29pm
Jen Williams, UP alumna and chair of the National Alumni Board. Photo courtesy of Jen Williams.

Pride. A big word these days, often associated with rainbows or lions. It’s also a big part of UP messaging — Portland Pride, Pilot Pride. A big word these days. Official definition of “to be proud,” from dictionary.com, clarifying that a primary definition of proud is “feeling pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable or creditable to oneself…”

So, it’s about it/them/they, the thing that brings pride — but it’s also about ME, the person experiencing that pride. 

Interesting. A big word.

Well, I am SO, so proud of Megan Rapinoe ’08. My association with her is definite but distant, in that she played soccer for UP eight years after I played basketball there. I am proud of her athletic endeavors, of her activism and confidence and willingness to stand up for what she believes in, of her being a voice for those who have none and for causes that need a hero.

She is an alumna of UP. 

Megan Rapinoe playing for the Pilots. Photo: University of Portland Athletics

We share history, the experience of the training room in Chiles Center, of campus housing, of WCC road trips. We know what it’s like to have our friends and classmates and roommates and parents cheer us on as we competed in purple and white. We’ve walked the same paths, attended class in the same buildings. We chose this place based on storied athletic success but also on what we expected to experience as humans.

As every organizational communication paper I ever wrote started out, UP is a small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest. We claim under 4,000 undergraduates and just under 40,000 alumni. Smaller en masse than the active student population at many state schools.

Among those are standout professional athletes, accomplished artists, compassionate nurses, excellent teachers, ground-breaking engineers, famous actors, members of the military, PR and marketing all-stars. We boast 11 University of Portland chapters around the country, providing a familiar feeling of home and connecting us to those formative college times. As members of the National Alumni Board, one of the great honors we have is to be the voice of those alumni, to help foster that connection to The Bluff, to support current students, staff and faculty to ensure that what we continue to feel about this university is, in fact, pride. 

So, as we celebrate this spectacular alumna, let us remember what that pride means. Let us not be distracted by polarized thinking or combative environments. Let us not get lost in the words when what we could do is listen to the message. 

The university's mission statement concludes with this:

“Because we value the development of the whole person, the university honors faith and reason as ways of knowing, promotes ethical reflection, and prepares people who respond to the needs of the world and its human family.”

This is exactly what Megan has done, using her platform, her moments at the microphone, her personality and confidence to respond to things that are deeply personal to her. Do you have to agree? No. But can you still be proud of all she has done, on and off the field? Yes. More importantly, can you be proud to share part of your history, your STORY, with someone who is actively living what our university taught us? Absolutely.

In our NAB meetings, we talk a lot about the WHY — why do we love UP to the point of giving time, money and energy to support it? Why do we think people come to this school? Why do we continue to love it, love our memories of it, love what it has been and what it could become? I doubt anyone would answer by saying that it’s because they had a completely predictable, repetitive experience on The Bluff. This was the time in life when we were given a safe place to explore, to ask, to wonder… to challenge and be challenged. The best discussions are those when multiple points of view are discussed and respected and you may not walk away all on the same page but you are somehow in the same book. Your chapters make up a story that encompasses us all. And that says a lot. 

So, go on, love Megan Rapinoe. Respect her accomplishments as an athlete, and be proud of UP for providing a foundation that encouraged her to stand up for herself and others. Put on that purple shirt and shout from the mountaintops, or put a reminder in your calendar to check out a women’s soccer game under the lights at Merlo Field/Clive Charles Pitch next year. Take pause to recall the moments you had on campus that made you stronger, braver, more aware. And celebrate those. 

Thank you for being part of the fabric of UP. I am proud of you.

Jen Williams is a UP alumna (‘00) and the chair of the National Alumni Board. She can be reached at jenwilliams52@gmail.com