Unlike many of my friends with University of Michigan legacies, there are no alumni in my family. My parents went to Central Michigan University and my aunts and uncles went either there or to Purdue. But other than the fact that my Boilermaker relatives can be a little overwhelming at times, there’s no family loyalty to a particular university. On top of that, I didn’t really grow up in Michigan, so when the time came to think about colleges, the University of Michigan was just another university. I cheered for the football team, but in comparison to real fans I was tragically lukewarm.

When I started touring schools, I realized something was different here at the University. At every school I visited, students wore sweatshirts with the school’s logo — even the Yale Bulldogs deigned to pull one over their button-downs— but at the University of Michigan there was something a little different in the wearer’s attitude. My friends and I joke now that you can wear whatever you want as long as it has the Block ‘M’ on it. Everyone is excited to be a Michigan student, even on a cold, rainy morning.

The Michigan attitude of loving the school, the institution and the community struck home for me. My parents, mentally calculating the difference between in-state tuition with an Ivy League education, encouraged this by watching Michigan football and taking me to a game. I still think they bribed my friends to buy me a Michigan teddy bear for my 18th birthday. They may have had ulterior motives, but their strategy was grounded in something I had seen myself — at Michigan I would get much more than an education.

Most students vaguely understand that making connections and “opening doors” (whatever that means) is important for the future. Usually, it’s a fancy name attached like Harvard or Columbia. But while Harvard has around 20,000 students each year, the University has more than twice that many. Which means — and I’ll leave the calculations up to the math geniuses in East Hall — there are a lot more Wolverines out there than, um, Crimsons. And we have a better football team.

All of the silly tangible benefits of a good education and a job and a future aside, Michigan stands out because it creates a community that unites complete strangers — even in foreign countries. In the same day, a few fellow Wolverines and I cheered “Go Blue!” at a stranger on a street in London who happened to be wearing a Michigan Law t-shirt and reminisced over living in Ann Arbor with a man wearing a University rock-climbing shirt in Edinburgh.

It says something about the University that two weeks ago I was sitting in a Buffalo Wild Wings hours from Ann Arbor with the water ski team, next to a wedding party that made a pit-stop between the wedding and reception, watching the guy who sat next to me in class two days earlier run over 300 yards with his shoes untied. It’s the same connection that made a friend of mine creepily snap a picture of a man in a Michigan hat on a ferryboat in Seattle.

Whether the connection is forged in the student section at football games, over the long, cold walk to classes in the winter or on the late-night drunken bus ride back to North Campus, there’s something that bonds students and alumni of the University in a way I haven’t seen at other colleges. It’s more than just school spirit, more than maize and blue face paint and nail polish, more than accumulating a ridiculous amount of yellow t-shirts, more than the knowledge that we really are the Leaders and the Best. It’s something that becomes a part of the students, a part that never changes, a part that has alumni still standing for “The Victors” decades after they’ve graduated. The Michigan Difference isn’t some fundraising scheme brainstormed by the administration, it’s what happens when you become a part of the Michigan family.

When people ask me why I chose Michigan, a question I seem to hear a lot lately, I try to give them a full answer. It’s a great school and I get to pay in-state tuition. And that’s true, but I stayed at Michigan because it’s a way of life.

Erika Mayer is an LSA junior.

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