Be it resources or your time, the homecoming experience can show you what your school needs

Kyle Penney

My family and I are Chapel Hill High School football fans, and for the past two Friday nights we have been entertained by pregame homecoming festivities, once at Chapel Hill and the following week at Gladewater High School. It is fun to watch the pomp and circumstance surrounding the crowning of the homecoming queen and her court. At Gladewater, there were so many duchesses recognized that I was beginning to feel sorry for any senior who didn't get a crown and a bouquet of flowers. Along with the traditional festivities, homecoming is also an annual opportunity for alumni to return to campus and catch up with old friends and former teachers. As big of a deal as homecoming is in high school, it is an even bigger deal at colleges and universities. The stakes are much higher at colleges and universities where alumni relations are inextricably linked to raising financial support for the school.

There is some debate between the University of Missouri, Baylor University and Southwestern University as to who started the tradition of homecoming. As a Baylor graduate, I have always leaned toward the green and gold version, which indicates that in the fall of 1909 several professors signed a postcard inviting former students to return to campus to "renew former associations and friendships, and catch the Baylor spirit again." The University of Missouri traces the tradition back to an invitation in 1911 to encourage alumni to attend a football game against the University of Kansas. The game had been played for several years at a neutral site in Kansas City, and the Missouri administration was worried that attendance would be low when the game was first held on the Columbia campus. Southwestern had a barbecue dinner on campus and invited alumni to return for the event in the spring of 1909. Whichever version of the origin you prefer, homecoming traditions are alive and well today.

Ironically, the Baylor invitation in 1909 specifically stated, "It is not to be the occasion for the raising of money for any purpose." Today, I'm not sure how much "fundraising" actually occurs during homecoming week each year, but the "friend-raising" work that is done to keep alumni engaged with the life of the university is critically important. With that in mind, I applaud the leadership and supporters of The University of Texas at Tyler for making the commitment to construct the UT Tyler Alumni House to serve as the focal point for alumni and donor relations for the campus. Construction of this facility underscores UT Tyler's commitment to alumni and the critical role they serve as ambassadors and supporters of the university.

Locally, Tyler Junior College just celebrated its 90th anniversary with an exciting week of homecoming activities including the traditional parade and football game. The University of Texas at Tyler and Texas College both have a full schedule of events for their homecoming celebrations set for the second and third weeks of October, respectively. If you didn't graduate from TJC, UT Tyler or Texas College, or if you can't make it back to your alma mater, don't let that keep you from enjoying the tradition of homecoming each year in your own community.

The role of these important education institutions to our region cannot be overemphasized. According to information from the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce Business Education Council, "In Smith County today, 35 percent of residents possess an associate degree or higher. Yet, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, 65 percent of U.S. jobs will require some form of postsecondary education by 2020. The Business Education Council has worked with partners in all sectors to elevate education as one of the region's most critical issues. The Council has served as an organizer of stakeholders and as a partner to businesses, schools and colleges or universities in developing new programs, facilities and events to assist area students and families and to ensure that local workforce needs are properly aligned with available educational programs and skills training." The resulting increased educational attainment in our community creates greater employment opportunities and improved quality of life for all of us.

At the end of the day, homecoming is not just about queens, parades and athletic competition; it is an important event that builds relationships between students, faculty, alumni and members of the community to allow all of these stakeholders to address the educational needs of our community. Aside from the occasion to catch up with old friends, use your homecoming experience to learn about the school's achievements and current needs. Take the opportunity to discuss these issues with alumni, current students, faculty and administrators. Use your homecoming visit to strengthen the bond you have with the institution and perhaps improve the value of your own degree. Finding an opportunity to devote financial resources, or your precious time, for the benefit of your school and our local institutions may be the next best opportunity for you to give well.

 

Kyle Penney is president of East Texas Communities Foundation and a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy. The mission of ETCF is to support philanthropy by providing simple ways for donors to achieve their long-term charitable goals. To learn more about ETCF or to discuss your charitable giving, contact Kyle at 866-533-3823, or email questions or comments to etcf@etcf.org. More information is available at www.etcf.org.

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