Next to commencement, homecoming is the most hectic weekend for a college president and spouse. There are class reunions, receptions, the pep rally, parade, generally culminating in The Big Game. A variety of other events often are thrown in to take advantage of having alumni back. This year, as usual, I had a thick briefing binder and a schedule detailing where Michelle and I should be every minute, and instructions on whether I was to deliver a welcome, a campus update or "just mingle." I also was entrusted with the golf cart to get across campus quickly, and an "escort" whose job it was to ensure that I didn't fall off schedule. One of my predecessors liked to call homecoming a "forced march."
My first year at Texas Lutheran, homecoming was the most intense, as I added my inauguration to the schedule. We wanted to make it available to the alumni, but also keep it low-key. This year's program included two golf tournaments, reunions for the classes of '53, '63, and '73, dedication of a baseball memorial to a deceased graduate, the parade, Homecoming Chapel, an induction ceremony for the Athletics Hall of Fame, a groundbreaking for the new athletic complex, a pre-game tailgate, and the football game. In between, I also stopped by Parent's Weekend and gave a welcome at an admissions visitor's day. It was warm and humid in South Texas -- I went through four changes of shirt on Saturday alone. We were achingly close to a perfect weekend, but the football game was stopped and ultimately cancelled due to a thunderstorm.
Homecoming at TLU more important than at other places I've worked. At the University of Evansville, where I was academic vice president, the absence of football held homecoming back. The Purple Aces had (and have) an outstanding soccer program, but the homecoming soccer game just didn't resonate with most alumni. For many of them, it was just an unhappy reminder that we had dropped football. Evansville being in Indiana, we experimented with homecoming around a basketball game, but winter homecoming didn't really catch on either.
My favorite part of homecoming is visiting with alumni. At the University of Redlands, class reunions are held at five-year intervals all across campus. While I sped around in the golf cart, greeting to each class, I was treated to a fascinating longitudinal study of the history of the U of R student body! The classes of 1957 and 1962 listened politely and respectfully to the University President -- presumably just as they always did. But there was a clear shift when I arrived at the Class of '67 party. No one was carrying placards or threatening a sit-in, but they were decidedly less deferential. By the time I reached the class of 1997, the children were the center of attention, and I'm not sure anyone noticed me.
My best homecoming memory cames from the fifth-year reunion of the Class of 2000, in my first year at Redlands. A young alumnus pulled me aside and proudly recounted his experience: how he had barely been admitted, met the woman who would become his wife in his first class, was challenged to become a better student, graduated on time and landed a great job on a fast track to CEO. As his eyes welled with tears, he said "Everything I have in life, I owe to the University of Redlands." Homecoming may be a tiring, forced march, but it can extremely inspirational, as well.