Homecoming should build community, scrap outdated traditions

By Angela Koontz, For The Pitt News

The word “homecoming” usually causes people to envision football stands, homecoming court, maybe a parade. Students and alums alike flock to the special performances and stadiums.

But while these entertaining events bring alumni back to campus, they fail to connect alumni with students. Many smaller events across campus are a lot less flashy than football games and homecoming court, but they allow students to forge valuable bonds with alumni, build friendships and gain networking opportunities. Sadly though, these events are often overlooked.

During Homecoming, there are more than 40 events planned for past and present Panthers. Starting the Tuesday before the football game and stretching all the way until the Sunday after the game, alumni have opportunities to engage with their alma mater — and current students. Early days of the week host concerts, awards ceremonies and food fests. The tail end of the week holds walking tours, class reunions and individual school reunion luncheons.

At community service events like the Toiletries & School Supplies Donation Drive, students and alumni come together and give back to the Pitt community. The Greek Week blood drive also takes place during Homecoming — students and alumni can volunteer for the event or donate blood. Both events take place throughout the week.

A great deal more of the events are huge networking opportunities for students. The Young Alumni Mixer on Oct. 4, hosted by the Pitt Young Alumni Association, offers students and young alumni a night of networking and socializing — recent graduates can provide students with valuable college advice and job opportunities all at the same time.

And for students who want to connect with alumni specifically aligned with their major, there are specific events for math majors, business majors and engineers.

Homecoming clearly offers a wealth of opportunities for students to connect with alumni, but unfortunately most students and alumni don’t take advantage of those opportunities — instead they only seem to care about one specific part of the week-long extravaganza.

Everyone comes together for the football game on Saturday and thousands of students vote for homecoming king and queen — but those events are purely ceremonial.

Homecoming court has no significance in student life — it’s essentially a popularity contest. The smaller networking events should take priority, but the fireworks always seems to outshine them.

Bigelow Boulevard shuts down Friday for an annual laser and fireworks display put on by the Pitt Program Council. Fog fills the space between the Cathedral of Learning and the William Pitt Union as lasers beam overhead and fireworks explode behind a giant screen.

It’s understanding why this is alluring. In high school it would’ve simply been a fun ceremony. But college is different — college homecoming should shine a spotlight on networking events to help students make connections for the future. Otherwise, the joy of homecoming is short lived and dozens of students and alums miss out on valuable opportunities.

The first step to changing homecoming is to do more to inform students about the these networking events. Homecoming court members promote themselves on every surface on campus, chalking every sidewalk with their name and messages — the University should promote smaller alumni events in this way, too.

Currently, these events are only promoted by the Pitt Alumni Association through the William Pitt Union — so departments need to do a better job advertising them, too. They can send out emails to students, make announcements during classes — the University isn’t just responsible for teaching students, it’s responsible for ensuring students have real world opportunities as well.

Alumni are the people Pitt students look to for advice and job opportunities. Networking events, meet and greets and luncheons allow students of all majors and in all campus organizations to speak with former students who were in their place several years ago.

Homecoming is a century-long tradition, and it still stands — just on one leg. All University students should want to learn about those who traversed Schenley Park and the halls of the Cathedral before them. Homecoming is so much more than just a crown, and we shouldn’t wait until the first notes of “Sweet Caroline” to stand together.