Alumni coming home: CMU alumni gather to reflect, reconnect and celebrate CMU
It might be an understatement to say that Homecoming is a big deal for Office of Information Technology staff member Eric Bellmore. The 1996 graduate has celebrated the last 20 Homecomings tailgating with a growing group of alumni, friends, coworkers, students and family.
“The maroon and gold is deep in our family,” Bellmore said. “Between my family, I had two cousins who went here in the 70s and 80s, I went here, my wife went here, my father-in-law graduated in ‘68 and now we have numerous cousins. (With) every generation, more people come.”
Bellmore’s Homecoming tailgate started small, but now draws around 30 people every year, complete with a menu based on the opposing team's local food.
For students, Homecoming offers a week of festivities and energy. Events such as the Rock Rally, cardboard boat race and Battle of the Floats mark and generate excitement around the annual football game.
However, for alumni, Homecoming literally means coming home - reconnecting with former classmates, professors, friends and memories.
“The common thread for everybody who has gone to CMU and worked here is that we are family, and I always come back to that because it’s one of my favorite things to hear from incoming freshmen or folks who visit for Homecoming,” Bellmore said. “They know they can count on our hospitality and our people being open and welcoming.”
Bellmore recalls Homecoming as "a blur" from his time as a student, and feels like he appreciates the camaraderie of Homecoming more as an alumnus and staff member.
"(As a student), you don't look around and appreciate that we have 25,000 people in one place right now for one reason," he said.
As graduate students, educational leadership faculty member Eric Buschlen and management faculty member Amy McGinnis did not participate much in Homecomings during their studies, focusing more on their research instead.
Buschlen received his master’s in 1999 and doctorate in 2009. McGinnis received her doctorate from CMU in 2014. They earned their undergraduate degrees from different universities, but met through LeaderShape and married in an 11-minute ceremony at St. Mary’s University Parish on campus in 2003.
Now, they spend their workdays a couple of miles away from where they married, celebrating Homecoming as both alumni and faculty.
“CMU is big enough to matter because it’s a big school with a lot of students, but it’s small enough to care,” McGinnis said. “I think that’s what you see in Homecoming a lot - at least from our experience and the activities we (take part in). We look for people we worked with, mentors, people who inspired us and former students. It’s that caring side, that connection that’s really important to us.”
During Homecoming, Buschlen and McGinnis make sure to stop by the different college tents to interact with alumni from their former undergraduate schools. However, the cardboard boat race, tailgating and the football game have become integral parts of their family’s Homecoming experience.
As faculty, Buschlen and McGinnis raised their children surrounded by college campus culture, but they noted their experiences as first-generation college students and having to create ties to the university.
“Homecoming is the ultimate connection because you’re coming back as an alumnus saying, ‘I found a connection at this institution, and I’m 48 years old and I’m still going to come back because it’s Homecoming,’” Buschlen said. “When undergraduate students see that, it starts to build this ‘if they can do it, I can do it’ (mentality). Finding that connection (between the alumni and students) is what Homecoming exemplifies.”
Homecoming has undergone a lot of changes since its first year in 1924. The event now highlights alumni and celebrates the familial connection that Bellmore, Buschlen and McGinnis all recognize as special to CMU.
“My favorite thing to ask students why they are at CMU, and time and time again, they say it’s the people and the campus," Bellmore said. "They tell me, ‘as soon as I step on campus, it feels like home.’ And when you come back as an alum, it still feels like home. That’s what I love to hear: as much change as we have on campus, we still have this home and family feel that I hope we always have. It’s what drew me here and it’s what keeps drawing people here."