A history of Homecoming

This weekend, the campus will swell with the addition of more than 4,500 parents and alumni, here to reminisce and revel in the company of classmates past and take in the sights and sounds of Berkeley. For some, looking at campus landmarks and residence halls stirs nothing more than the memory of dropping off children on move-in day, but for others, the return to Berkeley signifies something more — a kind of coming home.

Since before World War II, UC Berkeley has celebrated Homecoming in some form or another, holding dances and rallies to mark the occasion. For a campus steeped in the tradition and lore of events such as the Big Game, Homecoming seems like a natural extension of the UC Berkeley spirit that pervades much of the campus, especially when the Cal football team is on a winning streak. But although rituals and activities abound this week, Homecoming has undergone a number of changes since it originated, including a period of fading away before a turn-of-the-century revival.

A hallmark of UC Berkeley Homecoming is the rally, taking place Friday at 8 p.m. this year. While bonfire rallies used to be held before every home game, over the years, rituals of large, extravagant rallies have fallen by the wayside, according to Shreyas Chand, chair of the UC Rally Committee, and the Homecoming rally has undergone multiple changes in format. In 2009 and 2010, the Rally Committee revived the Pajamarino Rally, distinguished by a dress code of pajamas, and for the past few years, the committee has sought to highlight student groups and activities on campus as well as appeal to parents and returning alumni.

Other traditions include colloquiums that Nobel laureates have spoken at and a Friday-night parents dinner that Homecoming coordinator Beverly Ingram said draws 1,500 people and usually sells out. Another popular event is campus astronomy professor Alex Filippenko’s faculty seminar, taking place at 5 p.m. Friday and focusing this year on stars, planets and black holes.

The occasion’s format has changed since its inception. Festivities in decades such as the 1940s and 1950s included a homecoming dance, complete with a homecoming queen, and the date of the football game fell in November, at times coinciding with Big Game Week. But beginning in the 1960s, homecoming spirit and activities waned, marking a period during which UC Berkeley Homecoming went into retreat.

“The ’60s and ’70s were the period of time when a lot of very traditional aspects of spirit dwindled by a lot, again, because of all of the political unrest and anti-university sentiment that was felt around then,” Chand said.

In the late 1990s, according to former Homecoming coordinator Maya Goehring-Harris, the format changed, incorporating class reunions, which previously took place off campus during Big Game Week. Homecoming weekends have also been scheduled for October, when they often corresponded with the football game against a Southern California school.

Goehring-Harris said that shortly after, the campus combined Parents Weekend and Homecoming to maximize resources, producing what is now known as Reunion and Parents Weekend at Homecoming. And in 2003, the campus held what was considered to be the first student-involved homecoming since 1964, with students coordinating events such as the Cal Can Creation Competition, in which cans of food for charity were used to build famous campus landmarks. Since then, Homecoming has mostly proceeded without a hitch — although the campus explosion near California Hall in September 2013 nearly caused its cancellation, according to Ingram.

Cal Young, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1979, attended his first Homecoming game in 2014. Young said that back when he attended UC Berkeley, even when the football team wasn’t playing as well, the camaraderie and excitement involved in rallies made them memorable, and that he looks forward to attending more Homecoming games in the future.

For Chand, Homecoming represents a chance to simultaneously share campus experiences with parents and alumni and gain new knowledge of UC Berkeley.

“Often, parents are also alumni of the university, so it’s an interesting time to see different time periods intersect, to hear alumni talk about their experiences and compare that to your time here,” Chand said. “I think that’s what Homecoming is all about — looking to the past, celebrating the future.”

Katy Abbott is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katyeabbott.