The true meaning of homecoming

What is homecoming? That seems like an odd question given that so many students and graduates take part in the annual festivities at their alma mater, each only a stone’s throw away from every other homecoming celebration. Like so many other holidays or traditions, it seems homecoming’s true meaning has become somewhat muddled through its century (or so) of existence. However, this year I think I might have stumbled across the true meaning of the day after all these years.

Homecoming has traditionally signaled the arrival of two events. Usually it’s the school’s football (or basketball or hockey) team’s first home game after being on the road. The school is supposed to herald them back with a big parade and spectacles galore. Current students are not the only participants of the celebration; alumni from all classes are welcomed back to reminisce about their glory days as well. Apparently homecoming’s origins go back to the University of Missouri’s 1911 football game, but Baylor University and the University of Illinois both claim rights to its origins around the same time (according to Wikipedia).

I knew nothing about this stepping into Woodstock High almost eight years ago. It was a tradition sprung on me where my class was supposed to band together for a week. During this time of ‘spirit days,’ we competed with the other grade levels to show our school spirit. The ballyhoo culminated at the end of the week with the football game, which alums were invited to attend. And while some graduates usually attended the football game, there was rarely anyone who had graduated more than three years prior. Some kind of mysterious stigma existed that made it seem like one could not let go of their high school if they returned long after they roamed its halls.

Then I encountered homecoming at Lake Forest College. Gone was the friendly rivalry between classes; the entire student body congealed for several days of festivities and then collectively partied the weekend away. Tailgating spots were christened, food tents were erected, and slightly intoxicated mingling filled most of the day. Wait, there’s a football game going on? Did we win? I guess it really doesn’t matter. That’s what characterized most of my past college homecomings – a smattering of faces that I knew all celebrating the fact that they attend Lake Forest.

This year, however, was slightly different. Since this year marks the College’s Sesquicentennial, it was inclined to make everything big. An expanded parade route took floats through downtown Lake Forest. A carnival was thrown on the South Campus field. The College was prepared to handle thousands of visitors.

Despite the ballooning of festivities, my mind wasn’t focused on tailgating. The parade didn’t really matter. And I still didn’t care about the football game. This year, I had reached the age when I anticipated the return of my friends who had graduated. Because, unlike in high school, there is no stigma in returning to college. All classes are welcomed back (we had a huge reunion for the class of ’68!). So, more than any other time in my life, I looked forward to catching up with old friends, sharing some new stories, and hearing about other people’s lives since we parted ways.

This is what I think the true meaning of homecoming is. It’s about remembering good times with good people. It’s about celebrating that past and present. It’s about coming home.

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