A true homecoming

I’m a little belated on this post, but hey, it happens.

(And yes, I realize I didn’t finish updating about Montana. I’ll work on that. Maybe. Eek!)

Three weekends ago (holy crap, time is flying!), I attended my first homecoming at my alma mater since I graduated in May 2009. I desperately wanted to go last year, but it was right after I started my job and I couldn’t swing the time off. This year, all my friends were waffling about it, going back and forth about whether to attend. “Well, I’ll go if everyone else is going.” But nobody was taking the plunge.

After a rough day of work in the beginning of October, I made the decision: I need to go to Elon. I was feeling dejected and insignificant, unsure of myself and alone. I knew that I needed to get back to the one place in the world where I feel most like myself. So I texted my friend Audrey and said, “I’ve decided I’m going to homecoming. Please come with me.” She responded that she’d think about it and let me know in a couple of days.

The next morning at 8:15, I got a text saying, “Screw it, let’s go to homecoming! I’ll make it work!” Turns out, she’d had one of the same kind of days and was feeling the same way about it. Plans took place and the countdowns began and  before we knew it, we were on our way.

We roadtripped down to North Carolina together after I picked her up in D.C. (she just moved there a few months ago from Wisconsin, where she moved after graduation). What should have only been a five-hour drive turned into seven and a half hours, but I couldn’t have asked for better company. We caught up about everything since the last time we’d seen each other (like the third weekend after she moved to D.C., which had been the first time since graduation!), we sang along to some ridiculous music, and we went out of the way to find Chick-fil-a for dinner.

Finally, at 12:30 a.m., we took the beautiful Exit 141 off of I-40/85 onto Huffman Mill Road. Never have I been so happy to see the Walmart sign. We checked into our hotel (right next to the Hooters) and after dropping our stuff off in the room, we headed to the top priority spot in Burlington, N.C.: COOKOUT. This drive-thru only restaurant is a defining factor in every Elon students collegiate career. Whether going for the coveted Cookout Tray including a burger, hush puppies and chicken nuggets or just to satisfy that late-night milkshake craving (Chocolate Cobbler with Peanut Butter? Yes, please.), you’re bound to be satisfied.

We made our crucial decisions on milkshake flavors, paid our extremely small tab and then decided to drive through campus. We checked out the things that were the same (our beloved freshman year dorm where we met), the things that have changed (the Lighthouse Tavern being renamed College Street Taphouse), the things that weren’t there when we graduated (the pedestrian tunnel under the train tracks) and the things that will be there forever (drunk kids stumbling back from West End on a Thursday night). We reminisced, we teared up, we felt nostalgic. And then we went back to the hotel for some glorious sleep.

On Friday, we had breakfast and checked out of the hotel (we were staying in a different one the next two nights) and then headed to campus to register and get reacquainted. As we pulled into the Moseley parking lot and began walking into the student center to get to homecoming registration, I truly felt like I was…coming home, that is. After doing some damage in the campus shop (clearly I needed a new Elon mug and a T-shirt), we wandered around campus for a while longer before we had to be at the first event.

We took pictures by the fountain, we visited our old dorms, and then we decided to go to our REAL home. The McEwen School of Communications, where we slaved away for the vast majority of our college careers. We found one of our favorite professors, one who had taught us both (in two classes back-to-back three days a week). As we walked into his office, it was so wonderful to see his reaction. At first it was just like, “Oh, hi…” but then it registered who we were and that we don’t go to school here anymore and he said, “Oh my gosh HI! What are you doing here?!” We sat with Harlan for probably 30-45 minutes, just chatting, catching up on our lives and remembering the good old days of our classes with him. He remembered exactly what each of us was doing and asked us how we were liking the real world. Something simple like that is what kills me about Elon. You don’t get that kind of treatment at just any school.

We then walked over to the new iMedia grad school to check it out, and I immediately saw my senior capstone professor through the window. His face lit up and he said through the window, “ENEY MEENIE MINIE MO!” That’s how I told him to pronounce my last name the very first day I met him. And he remembered that as he gave me the biggest hug I’ve gotten in a very long time.

Soon after this, we went to the campus sandwich/coffee shop to get lunch before I had to serve on an alumni panel for the school of communications. The sandwiches, which definitely got old after four years, suddenly tasted glorious. I only wish I’d been able to swipe my Phoenix card instead of paying REAL money for it…

So then it was time for the big event…apparently when I registered for homecoming and said I was interested in attending the School of Communications Alumni Wisdom Session, that meant: “Hey! You’re gonna be ON the alumni panel! Sounds cool, right?! Oh and by the way, it’s gonna be filmed and you need to send us your photo and bio so we can put your face on these fliers! OK great thanks!”

I was super nervous, but the nerves kind of fluttered away when I met the student who would be moderating the session, and were completely gone when an old friend walked in to be on the session with me. Erika, who I worked on the yearbook with for two years, was so excited to see me, and vice versa. We hadn’t seen each other since my sophomore year due to semesters abroad and her graduating a year before me. Seeing her was one of the highlights of my trip to homecoming.

The panel went surprisingly well…I was able to offer the students some advice on the transition from college to the real world and some of them seemed to be really interested. After the panel was over, professors came up to chat with me (including one I’d never had, but she knew ALL about me from a very brief amount of time we spent together at the newspaper), I received a gift bag (with another new Elon mug…oops) and I networked with some other alumni and current students. Handing out my business cards and saying, “Please contact me with any questions!” felt so bizarre to me, but also really freaking cool. These kids ate up everything I had to say. A whole new experience, for sure.

The rest of the weekend was filled with a mix of old and new experiences: dinner at a “new” restaurant on campus, the young alumni party at the Bar Formerly Known As Lighthouse, a new wine-based margarita (DON’T DO IT!), running into old friends, meeting new friends, getting carded by ALE (undercover alcohol law enforcement officers…) for the first time at the age of 23 while there were freshmen running around wasted, late-night leftover consumption, a beer run to Walmart, tailgating to cure a hangover, not knowing anyone at tailgate, standing in the student section at the football game, eating Hursey’s for lunch, watching Elon lose the game with 9 seconds left, going to Crazy Fire for dinner, drinking beer in the newspaper office, Biscuitville for breakfast, one last walk around campus, Buffalo Wild Wings for food, beer and football, and feeling incredibly sad to be leaving our home.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve felt so much like myself. I know that Elon will always make me feel that way, especially as long as my professors are still there stroking my ego. Ever since that weekend, I’ve had a much more positive outlook on life, I’ve been remarkably cheerful and I’ve felt better about myself. Over the years, my homes have changed numerous times, although my “real” home with my family has only been in two different places. My Elon home will always have a huge, special place in my heart. And I only hope I can get a large group of my friends together to go to homecoming next year. I think we all need a reminder of where we came from every once in a while.

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