FSU students, families, and alumni celebrated Homecoming Weekend in person with a carnival, the annual Moonlight Breakfast, alumni events, sports games, trivia, a scavenger hunt, and more Sept. 18-19.
President F. Javier Cevallos said, “Having everybody back is great! … Last year, it was like a desert,” and the campus had the same energy as during finals week.
Eric Gustafson, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, said it was difficult to “quantify precisely” attendance since it “shifts” and not all attendees pre-registered.
However, Gustafson said his team [the Office of Alumni Relations] knows at least 150 alumni were present throughout the weekend.
“Last year in the virtual format, we had 65, so a significant increase,” he said.
According to Gustafson, the total cost of all events was “just over $5,000. … A decrease from our last in-person Homecoming in 2019.”
He said planning for Homecoming began last spring when there was more optimism about “conditions” this fall.
Gustafson said he and his team expected the FSU community would be “eager to reconnect in person.” Increased vaccination rates on campus allowed this fRAMily reunion to happen.
“We are so thrilled to have alumni back on campus! I can’t begin to tell you how exciting that is, and how meaningful that is for our team,” he said.
He added, “We tried to be as safe as we could … given the reality that we’re still living in.” This meant holding some events outside and increasing safety protocols as needed.
Though his department was successful in carrying out these efforts, the rapidly spreading delta variant left some “justifiably” hesitant to attend this in-person Homecoming, he said.
He added due to this challenge, they did not expect to see pre-COVID-19 attendance numbers, and scaled back their programming accordingly.
After receiving feedback from alumni who were hesitant to attend because of COVID-19 concerns, Gustafson said his team is working on making future events in the fall hybrid.
Homecoming is “built around in-person events and being on campus” and “unfortunately doesn’t lend itself” to a hybrid format, he said.
Nevertheless, he said it “was such a boost to have that in-person connection again.
“I was joyous to be back in person, on campus, reconnecting after such a long time apart. … You can do a lot over Zoom and a lot over email, but it’s not the same as seeing someone face-to-face,” he said.
Given the limitations COVID-19 inevitably adds to event planning, he said, “It was a tremendous weekend” and he is “very pleased” with how things went.
He said the initial feedback they received from Alumni on site was “extremely positive.
“We always want to learn from everything we do to make it better the next time … thinking critically about how we can improve.”
It was most important “they felt like they were in a safe environment,” he added.
SGA and Moonlight Breakfast
Sara Gallegos, advisor of SGA and director of Student Involvement and Leadership Development, said SGA provided $1,400 to fund the annual Moonlight Breakfast event.
Gallegos said due to tight budgets, she asked SGA if they could help fund the event.
SGA President McKenzie Ward said SGA “held an emergency e-Board meeting over the summer” to approve the movement of funds from SGA to the Dean of Students Office.
“We want to see more student involvement on campus,” Ward said.
She added SGA wanted to help “keep this tradition alive.”
Rachel Lucking, assistant dean for campus engagement, said Moonlight Breakfast has always been a major “anchor event.”
There were 544 participants, she said, and this is a “bump up” from last year.
She said their primary goal was to “re-establish” connections for people on campus with traditions such as Moonlight Breakfast.
Plans for the event were cemented in August, Lucking said. They discussed backup plans in the event COVID-19 delta variant cases increased. “Luckily, we didn’t have to advance that conversation.”
Dave Callaghan, ’07, attended the Moonlight Breakfast with his family.
Callaghan said this was an event he and his wife “always had fun coming to” when they were FSU students.
Jay Hurtubise, director of community standards, hosted a red carpet event at Moonlight Breakfast for the podcast “From Truth to Action” he co-hosts with Ben Trapanick, director of new student and family programs.
Sam the Ram posed with students on the red carpet as they learned about the podcast and completed tasks for a Homecoming-themed scavenger hunt.
The podcast currently has two episodes posted with guests from the Framingham Police Department and Boston public schools.
In their first episode, Trapanick said they “aim to explore the way biases and systemic racism impact the FSU community.”
Alumni of Color Networking Barbeque
Speaking to the 30 or so guests at the barbeque, Cevallos said, FSU is “becoming a diverse campus that reflects the society that we live in. … We have to continue.”
Gustafson said a joint decision between event coordinators and Alumni Relations was made to move this event outside.
Tanaja Jordan, ’19, a board member of the Alumni of Color Network (ACN), said she wants to continue to return to campus and “help the kids.
“We are here for them whenever they need us,” Jordan said.
She added she was motivated to become a board member after she dealt with a racist incident first-hand as a resident assistant at the University.
“Seeing everyone come together after that was … powerful,” Jordan said.
Alexandra Valdez, ’16, said she has attended alumni events since she graduated and served on the board of the ACN in the past.
Valdez said she is invested in “giving back to the community in any way I can.”
Austin Riffelmacher, a senior English major and intern at Alumni and Development Relations, checked alumni of color into the event.
Riffelmacher said this is a “great networking event” for students to see the accomplishments of alumni of color.
He added, “Networking is the best thing you can do for your career.”
Jennifer Defronzo, director of Alumni Relations, said it was “wonderful” her office could safely organize in-person events for Homecoming.
Defronzo said, “We do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make sure that it’s safe” and follows all the CDC guidelines.
She added, “It’s a lot of work, but we’re happy to be able to do that for our alumni and students.”
Alumni Relations works to “strengthen” the relationships between the University and alumni, alumni and current students, and among alumni, said Defronzo.
Seeing the community join together is “why we do the work we do,” she added.
“There’s no substitute for face-to-face events,” she said.
Deron Hines, ’18 and member of the ACN, attended the football game and helped plan the barbeque.
Hines said he played on the football team for three years and it’s “very nostalgic” to see the team in action.
“I’m excited for them to have a season, for people to be in the stands, for them to have a cheer team out here, [and] for everybody to be able to watch and have a Homecoming game,” he said.
Hines had to leave the game early to attend the barbeque. He said, “That hurts my heart on one end, but fills my heart on the other.”
Yemi Ajao, ’14 and a captain of the basketball team for three years, said he worked in the Framingham public schools and has “always been connected [to FSU] in one way or another.”
Ajao said he looked forward to the opportunity to gather together at the barbeque to “touch base and reconnect” with other alumni.
Carol Quilty, ’85, attended the Alumni Brunch with her mother-in-law, Jane Quilty, ’62.
Carol said, “It’s always been a beautiful campus.”
Jane returns to the University every five years for the alumni celebrations. She said, “It’s always nice to reminisce.”
Paul Ferrara, ’80, and Mac Bars, ’76, college roommates and best friends, said it was “surreal” to be on campus.
They have both attended Homecoming since “at least” 1980, and “every year, it’s gotten better,” said Fererra.
“It’s always nice to see how the Rams do,” he said, referring to the football game that occurred later that day.
The FSU community has a “family-type atmosphere,” he added.
During his time as an undergrad, he said he consistently received “excellent academic support.
“Ever since the day my mother dropped me off with a duffel bag, a black-and-white TV, and five dollars – she didn’t even put the car in park,” he said jokingly. “This campus has improved.”
He added President Cevallos’ tenure has been admirable and a “labor of love.
“I’m always proud to say I went to school here,” he said.
Cevallos said he enjoyed connecting with alumni in person.“It’s nice to have that mix of generations!”
Carnival and RamSwap Shop
The Carnival and RamSwap Shop had 250 and 131 people check in, respectively, said Lucking.
At the RamSwap Shop, community members found free old school T-shirts and athletic uniforms so they could rock their retro pride.
Devante Dixon, a freshman international business major, said, “The line was long at first, but it was definitely worth it – we got our swag on.
“I forgot how fun meeting new people is,” he added. “I’m just loving the whole experience.”
Kaylie Valentine, a freshman English major, said, “It feels good to meet people.”
Laurie Lincoln, parent of Hilary Lincoln, a sophomore biology major, said, “It’s great to see so many people out and enjoying themselves.”
Spencer Lintonsmith, a freshman computer science major, said the RamSwap Shop was “unbelievable!
“I’m very happy that the school put this on,” Lintonsmith added. It was a “very cool” first Homecoming experience.
Susana Krantz, a freshman food and nutrition major, said, “It feels really good to be around people again. … I feel like it’s mentally really good for me.”
Emma Lyons, a freshman English major, said, “It’s really nice to be in social settings … because I haven’t been around people.”
Adrianna Puccino, a freshman ASL interpretation major, said, the weekend felt “surreal” after months of stricter COVID-19 guidelines.
Puccino added, “I’ve made the best friends through these events.”
Dillon Riley, a freshman communication arts major, said paying tuition makes money tight so “[I] can’t complain about free stuff!”
Riley added, “It feels good bringing back some normalcy.”
He said it is great that state universities are mandating everyone get vaccinated. “The improvement’s been awesome, and it’s good to see.”
Lucking said there were no road blocks this weekend.
“To finally be back and see people having fun and families thanking you … made it [the weekend] successful no matter what.”
[Editor’s Note: McKenzie Ward is also Opinions Editor for The Gatepost. Austin Riffelmacher and Emma Lyons are staff writers for The Gatepost.]