Correction appended: Oct. 5, 2012.
A Penn State tradition since 1920, Homecoming is a weeklong celebration of team spirit and bleeding blue and white. However, with the controversy surrounding Penn State’s name since November, Happy Valley may or may not be so happy for this year’s 2012 Homecoming celebration.
Bridgette Carrier, Executive Director of Homecoming, said that she believes that this year’s Homecoming celebration is going to be very similar to previous years.
“Homecoming has been around and been at Penn State since its foundations, and I think that alumni are always going to come back,” Carrier (senior-kinesiology) said. “Considering all that has happened, you would think there would be less, but I think it is the complete opposite.”
As Homecoming has a large history of normative events, such as the crowning of the Homecoming Queen (1940) and the Homecoming Parade (1962), Carrier said that current and past Penn Staters have been taking the history of the event into account when deciding where they stand on the issues.
“Our community is specifically spending a lot of time looking to learn more about our history. It’s all about celebrating traditions as well as our history,” Carrier said. “Everything that has happened shows that maybe we didn’t know as much as we did, and we are looking forward to showing what we have learned.”
To Penn State officials, Homecoming is a time to reconnect with all of the positive aspects of the school and community.
“The events of the past year, while challenging and emotional, have shown the resiliency of Penn Staters everywhere. Events have already kicked off and participation by students has been tremendous,” Penn State Spokeswoman Lisa Powers wrote in an email.
Students hopeful for support
With Homecoming weekend notoriously bringing a large crowd back to Happy Valley for the annual parade, football game and other events, Penn State students are looking forward to seeing who is loyal to the community and in attendance.
“I think that Homecoming will be just as spirited, if not more so. Students and alumni are still proud to say ‘We Are,’” Megan Satterthwaite (juinor-nutrional sciences) said.
Freshmen Penn State students, who have not yet had the chance to see Homecoming before this year’s celebration, are hopeful regarding the continued positivity of the overall weekend.
“I’ve never seen Homecoming before, but I hope it is as exciting and spirited as previous ones,” Christina Ruzzo (freshman-recreation park and tourism management) said. “I think if anything, more alumni will show support as if nothing has changed, and will feel an obligation to do so if they are truly loyal to the Penn State community.”
Putting it all together
The Homecoming Board of Directors, including Penn State students separated onto sixteen different committees along with their captains, have been at work planning the Homecoming events, and Carrier said that a special number of alumni are returning.
“Everybody that we work with and talk to, including university officials and community members, keep saying how awesome it is that it is still happening," Carrier said. “All of the feedback that we get is really positive.”
As for donations and sponsorships with outside corporations, Corporate Relations Director Chris Murray (sophomore-marketing and economics) said that this year, an all-star team of Corporate Relations captains has been hard at work contacting local and regional sponsors for Homecoming.
“We have not had any problems securing donations this year,” Murray said. “We have established mutually beneficial relationships with numerous local vendors and we appreciate their continuous support every year.”
Murray said he served as a Homecoming captain last year and has not noticed a decline in donations compared to last year.
As for the annual Homecoming Parade, Parade Director Gabrielle Donchez (junior-marketing) said that this year, she has had the opportunity to talk to a large amount of student, alumni and community groups throughout the year with regard to their participation and general feelings about Homecoming.
“I can honestly say that the continuing spirit of alumni and community groups has been truly inspiring. They all are so excited to travel to State College on Friday and unite for the parade,” Donchez said. “We have over 30 alumni groups coming from all over the nation and numerous community groups who will be processing through campus and downtown along with 200 student organizations.”
Donchez said that the numbers of participators in the parade has increased since last year's Homecoming.
“There will be some new attractions. Look out for giant balloons, similar to a Macy's parade, as well as over 40 student-constructed floats,” Donchez said.
A split alumni base
With all of the tough times the Penn State and State College community have faced over the course of the past year, an event that brings people together, such as Homecoming, has a split alumni base regarding their perspective on the issues.
“As an alumnus, the whole situation is just very disappointing and very sad. It's supposed to be Happy Valley, and memories at Penn State are supposed to be happy, and now when I think of Penn State, it is just sad,” Penn State alumnus Scott Armstrong, Class of 1987, said. “I don't think it would necessarily affect Homecoming's attendance, but it certainly may affect the overall atmosphere.”
For some Alumni, the decision to remain positive through the controversy is more of an obligation of loyalty to the Penn State community.
“The scandal forced all of us to stop and re-evaluate what it means to be a Penn Stater,” Penn State alumnus Kevin Jansma, Class of 1988, said. “Homecoming creates the opportunity for us to come together and to support the victims, and the school and the need to collectively determine our vision for the future of Penn State."
Other Penn State alumni believe that the turnout of Homecoming this year will be stronger than ever before.
“Seeing everything go down, it was really hard for students, but it made the community pull together, and act as one,” Penn State alumna Jennifer Moore, Class of 2011, said. “We had to support each other through everything because we didn't have outside support anymore. That will show at this year's Homecoming.”
While Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship Spokeswoman Maribeth Schmidt said though the group remains critical of actions taken by Penn State officials in the last year, she and other PS4RS members are supportive of Homecoming and other traditions.
"Many of us will absolutely be attending," Schmidt said. "Contrary to moving on at all costs, we are capable of celebrating the school and supporting the team and being critical and demanding at the same time that the proper steps are being taken to rectify the last 12 months."
Looking to move forward
As the Homecoming weekend begins, there is a hanging “what if” to students, parents, alumni and community members as to whether the liveliness and support will be more or less prominent compared to previous years. However, regardless of the turnout, some current Penn State students and administrators are looking to move forward.
“Homecoming is a time to return to campus and reconnect with friends and remember all of the qualities that make Penn State the great institution it is and will continue to be. We're moving forward to build a stronger university and that's something around which all Penn Staters can rally,” Powers wrote in an email.
Stephen Huber, a member of Homecoming court, said alumni return not for the football games, but to revisit their college experiences.
“This is a place where people will go out of their way to change their schedules to go back to school and support this football team more than ever given the situation that they are in,” Huber (senior-finance and advertising)said.
Some Penn State students look toward the future with optimism that others will acknowledge all that students have done for the school, and celebrate the successes through Homecoming.
“If anything, I think that the experience or turnout will be even stronger. You can't rate the pride of a Nittany Lion,” Tracey Edouard (senior-public relations), who is also a member of the Homecoming court, said. “Think of all of the good that is done, like $10.6 million raised for THON in a recession. You can't discredit the students no matter how hard they try, and you can't destroy the pride in this school. We are one team and we are Penn State.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly conveyed the views of Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship. PS4RS Spokeswoman Maribeth Schmidt said members of the group will remain supportive of Homecoming this year. The above article reflects the correct information. The Daily Collegian apologizes for this error.