‘Feels like home’: Pitt hosts first in-person homecoming since 2019


Hannah Wilson | Staff Photographer

The Pitt Alumni Association will hold a variety of in-person and online events for Homecoming this year.

By Alexandra Ross, For The Pitt News

Pitt has not held in-person events for Homecoming Week in nearly two years, but the festivities are back in full swing this week — well, almost full swing.

The Pitt Alumni Association will host many in-person events this year, while some will remain online. Nancy Merritt, vice chancellor for alumni relations, said virtual Homecoming events are here to stay, even once the threat of COVID-19 subsides.

“The Pitt alumni network is over 342,000 strong, and they’re located throughout the country and across the globe,” Merritt said. “It’s just not feasible for all of them to come back to campus for Homecoming, so the PAA is determined to keep them connected in other ways.”

All attendees are expected to comply with Pitt’s COVID-19 rules at in-person events, Merritt said. This includes universal indoor masking, as well as outdoor masking for unvaccinated individuals.

Not all students are fully aware of when Homecoming events take place — or even what the events are. Jenny Kim, an undeclared sophomore, said she was interested in the annual Paint the Town event, but wasn’t sure what other events were planned. 

“I haven’t really heard a whole lot about it,” Kim said. “I feel like you have to go out of your way to look for what’s happening.”

Brianna Hennigh, a junior exercise science major, said she felt excited for the return of in-person Homecoming and planned to attend Saturday’s football game. She said not being able to participate in community events during the previous academic year negatively impacted her overall campus experience.

“Honestly, being here last year, it just didn’t feel right,” Hennigh said. “Being here this year, it feels like home.”

Students, alumni and families can learn more about the Homecoming schedule and register for dozens of events at homecoming.pitt.edu. Merritt said students who register for Homecoming get a free swag bag.

According to Meritt, registration ensures quick access to events and allows students to get their swag at check-in. Registration includes a name tag with a QR code that can scan people into individual events, as well as allow access to some campus buildings.

Check-in for registered students and alumni will take place at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Bigelow Boulevard on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Those who are only attending the tailgate or game can also check in Saturday at the Great Lawn on the North Shore.

Two Homecoming events have already taken place — the festivities kicked off on Monday in the William Pitt Union Plaza and continued at Traditions Paint Night on Tuesday. These were the first in-person Homecoming events since 2019.

I Love Pitt Day will return to campus on Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the WPU Plaza and Quad. Student Government Board — which is sponsoring the event — and other clubs, organizations and departments will attend. Attendees will find music, games, activities, food and giveaways to enjoy. 

Merritt said the PAA collaborated with SGB, the Pitt band, as well as the cheer and dance teams, to get current students involved in the fun by organizing several student-centered events during Homecoming Week.

“This year is the first year in a while that we’ve planned a full Homecoming Week for students,” Merritt said. “We want all Pitt students to come out and enjoy the festivities.”

Pitt students and alumni who dream of attending a TED conference will have their chance on Wednesday night — only instead of TED Talks, they will hear ROC Talks. Each speaker is a member of the Young Alumni Council, which works to maintain a connection between the University and alumni within the first decade after graduation.

Alyson Stover, associate professor of occupational therapy and director of clinical services at Capable Kids, will speak at the event. She received her bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation science and her master’s of occupational therapy at Pitt. Dr. Corey Black, founder and CEO of SmileSpace, will also give a ROC talk. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Africana studies with a minor in chemistry and his D.M.D from Pitt.

The speakers will give their ROC Talks at the Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center from 7 to 9 p.m. After the ROC Talks, students and alumni will have the opportunity to network with the speakers and one another. 

Not all Homecoming events are in person this year — some panel discussions, receptions and speaker events have continued with the virtual format. One such event is Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting, during which Chancellor Patrick Gallagher will give his annual update about the University. The meeting will stream live on the Pitt YouTube channel starting at 10 a.m.

In the past, the annual report focused on updating alumni about the University’s accomplishments over the previous year, as well as its plans for the future. This included academic achievements, improvements in campus diversity, research findings and campus construction plans.

The PAA and the Pitt Alumni Student Network will host the Homecoming Beat Series’ “Beat New Hampshire” festival at the WPU Plaza on Friday from 2 to 6 p.m. This event is for all Pitt community members, including students, alumni and children. There will be food, Pitt swag and family friendly festival activities.

The excitement continues through Saturday as Pitt’s football team is set to face off against the New Hampshire Wildcats at noon. New Hampshire has won each of its three games to start the season, while Pitt suffered a loss against Western Michigan last weekend.

Students won’t be the only ones with their own section at Heinz Field on Saturday afternoon — alumni can watch from the African American Alumni Council reserved section of the stadium for the Homecoming game. Tickets can be purchased online through the Athletics Department. Prices range from $20 to $38 per ticket.

Pitt affiliates across the East coast will host “Stay at Homecoming” virtual watch parties for those who can’t make it to Heinz Field for the game. Pitt fans in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, Atlanta, Harrisburg, New York and Pittsburgh who have the ACC Network channel can register online.

The PAA will sponsor the Homecoming Tailgate Village for alumni at the Great Lawn, starting three hours before kickoff. Food, beverages and pregame activities will be available, and families are welcome. Several campus organizations and groups will have tents in the Tailgate Village, such as the AAAC, the YAC, Panthers Forward and each of the University’s schools. 

“The biggest game of the season deserves the biggest tailgate — and that’s what we’re planning!” the PAA’s website said. 

Tickets for the Alumni Association’s tent in the village are $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 10 and younger. The registration deadline is at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

Homecoming Week will come to a flashy conclusion on Saturday night with the annual fireworks and laser show at the Cathedral of Learning. The Pitt Program Council said students and alumni can watch the show from Bigelow Boulevard and the William Pitt Union patio and lawn. 

Merritt said she hopes Homecoming this year will bring some hope to a moment of national uncertainty about the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s clear to me that this pandemic is going to remain with us for a while, and I wouldn’t even begin to guess when we could get back to normal, or what normal would even look like,” Merritt said. “But what I hope this Homecoming signifies is that there is a way to balance the things we want to do with the health and well-being of our community.”