College may not last forever, but don’t tell Kenyon that. The annual Homecoming weekend is one way students are encouraged to keep their Gambier experiences alive after their college careers end. Each year, current students, alumni and families are encouraged to come together to celebrate their shared connection to Kenyon. A deep dive into the archives of the Collegian offers insight into how Homecoming, one of the College’s beloved traditions, has evolved over the decades.
This year, Homecoming weekend activities included a bonfire, a zip line and a tailgate block party for Saturday’s football and soccer games. Throughout its history, though, the festivities for the affair have looked different. The first of these alumni celebrations took place in 1923. “The [adoption] of a Homecoming day is to create and maintain more enthusiasm and to urge our graduates to come back so that they may renew old acquaintances of undergraduate days,” the Collegian reported that year. Since that momentous decision, Kenyon has celebrated 99 Homecomings, the last of which was over the weekend.
A Homecoming schedule shared in 1990 reveals that the event that year involved a gathering of students, alumni and other community members on the steps of Rosse Hall to sing Kenyon’s songs. This event mirrors the present-day New Student Sing and Senior Sing. The schedule guides everyone to the site of a bonfire, a tradition started in 1987 that continues to this day. This year, the traditional bonfire took place on the North Campus Apartment lawns and was hosted by Social Board.
For many years following the advent of the weekend celebrations, a dance was an integral part of Homecoming. In 1985, though, there was a stark change in the music. “Usually the dance has been a traditional waltz geared towards the older alumni, whereas this year the dance featured a reggae band,” a Collegian issue reported. It seems students were attracted to the tradition of the dance coupled with the contemporary music choice, as that year’s dance was reportedly better attended than usual.
With all its cheer and celebration, the annual event has not been without its share of drama. According to a 1984 Collegian article, students took advantage of the 1966 Homecoming to perform an ongoing series of pranks on campus. “Someone impersonating Dean [of Students] Thomas Edwards (presumably a student) made phone calls to two [Mount] Vernon beer distributors and ordered them not to sell high kegs to any fraternity whether the buyers were 21 or not. Being Homecoming Weekend, students were quick to make distressed phone calls to Edwards who stressed his abhorrence at such tactics and then informed the merchants that the caller had been an impostor.” In the end, though, it seems students were still able to toast their love for college at that mid-20th-century Homecoming — with beer from Mount Vernon.
Perhaps more dramatically, community members once voiced concerns about the behavior of alumni visiting Kenyon. One writer expressed tension in a 2004 issue regarding the use of illicit substances on campus: “As the adage says, however, one rotten apple spoils the bunch, and an increase in rotten alumni is certainly an unwelcome trend. Before returning to their alma mater, alumni should seriously consider whether their visit will have a negative or a positive impact.” The complaint was in response to one alumnus in particular who was charged with drug possession. Dan Werner, Kenyon Director of Security and Safety at the time, told the Collegian, “He was on campus with mushrooms, pot, knives.”
Despite bumps in the road, the lore of Homecoming is bound to continue on the Hill. A small school with a long history, Kenyon continues to lure its graduates back each year.