The Latin noun alumnus means “foster son” or “pupil” and is derived from the verb alere "to nourish". The word alumnus appears in Roman law to describe a child placed in fosterage. According to John Boswell, the word "is nowhere defined in relation to status, privilege, or obligation." Citing the research of John Boswell, who studied the many inscriptions about alumni, Boswell concluded that it referred to exposed children who were taken into a household where they were "regarded as somewhere between an heir and a slave, partaking in different ways of both categories." Despite the warmth of feelings between the parent and child, "an alumnus might be treated both as a beloved child and as a household servant."
An alumnus, alumna, or alumnum is a former student and most often a graduate of an educational institution (school, college, university). According to the United States Department of Education, the term alumnae is used in conjunction with either women's colleges or a female group of students. The term alumni is used in conjunction with either men's colleges, a male group of students, or a mixed group of students:
In accordance with the rules of grammar governing the inflexion of nouns in the Romance languages, the masculine plural alumni is correctly used for groups composed of both sexes: the alumni of Princeton University.
Alumni reunions are popular events at many institutions. They are usually organized by alumni associations and are often social occasions for fundraising. The terminology is primarily used in the USA, although its usage is gradually becoming more widespread.