I attended the Homecoming festivities at the local high school today, and the experience made me stop and reflect on this tradition that's - well - a misnomer. The name doesn't accurately describe the term since one key element is usually absent from the festivities: graduates.
Princeton's wordnet defines homecoming as a return: coming or returning home. It's a tradition in most American high schools and universities, but high schools miss the mark. There's dress-up days, daily pep rallies, a bonfire - sometimes complete with the tossing of a dummy mascot of the opposing team, hall decorations, parades, class competitions, a coronation, and typically, a dance. Of course, all of this is done in the name of "school spirit." If you need to devote one entire week to school spirit and then watch it vanish from school hallways during the remainder of the year..... Right, that's a topic for another entry!!
Where are the graduates? Oh, that's right. There aren't many of them there.
I went to one homecoming football game and cornation after I graduated from high school. Honestly, I've attended more homecomings since I started teaching than I care to remember. And yes, I could probably name the homecoming queen and king for each year I taught in each respective school. Blame the photographic memory on my father, but I just remember stuff like that. Right, that's a topic for another entry!!
I'll admit that when I was in high school, this week-long event was important. Getting asked to the dance was the primary topic of conversation leading up to the week, and usually, if you didn't have a date at least a week ahead of time, you probably were going solo. Organizing hallway decorations became my speciality. I handed out a list of who was responsible for what, and if I remember right, my class won three of the four years I was in charge.
Two homecoming highlights stand out in my mind. The first was from third grade. Rain spilled from the sky so our homecoming parade was in the gym. I placed second in my class for my homecoming parade entry. I'll also admit that I don't remember what I had on or what the catchy slogan was (I'll blame that one on my mom....only because I know she'll be reading this), but I'm certain that she made the poster I carried. She was the creative force behind all art work and posters.
The second highlight came during my sophomore year. I had a crush on a boy in my class since fourth grade. He asked one of my friends to the dance. After the parade that day, she told me she didn't want to go with him, so she talked to him, told him she couldn't go to the dance, and asked him to take me instead. So he did. I got ready for the dance at another friend's house, and our dates picked us up at her place. I can honestly say we had a good time at the dance - until friend number one walked in around 11:30. My date asked me if I knew she was coming (which I didn't). Things could've turned ugly, but he, along with the other 22 kids in my class, ignored her the rest of the evening, which in high school dance world was only about a half hour since the dance ended at midnight. You know, it's the Cinderella syndrome - the car turns into a pumpkin, the dress disintegrates into a t-shirt and pair of jeans, the glass slippers become a pair of flip flops - at the stroke of midnight. We dropped off our two classmates, went for a drive, and discussed the evening's events. Then we kissed. Kissing followed by more talking. And then, headlights. No, those lights are red. And here comes a County Sheriff's Deputy to the car.
After a little chat with the officer, we silently drove back to town. He walked me to the door and gave me a kiss goodnight. We never dated again during high school, but we were best friends. In fact, when he got married, I was there and when he introduced me to his new bride, she told me that she'd heard all about me. Right, that's a topic for another entry!
But I digress. Where are the graduates? If homecoming is about returning home, shouldn't schools do more to entice graduates to return on a crisp autumn evening and take in a football game? Wouldn't that add to the school spirit? Should a graduate be more involved than a yearly alumni banquet where you eat a piece of rare roast beef or chicken and cold mashed potatoes, share silent conversations with classmates you had nothing in common with when you were in school, noting how the divide has widened remarkably, and suddenly realize that these people that you spent twelve - 13 if you were in Kindergarten - years of your life with really don't know you at all.
Maybe homecoming is really about a sense of community - a sense of building a rapport with every person in town. Maybe it's about participation. Maybe.
Perhaps all this comes about from teaching and experiencing the lack of education that occurs during this time. Perhaps it's because I wasn't homecoming queen. Nah, that didn't bother me then and it doesn't bother me now. Perhaps it's a week of bragging rights for parents and extended family. "Well, two of my four kids were homecoming king or queen...."
Perhaps it's because in the scheme of life, it's one week, one day, and it truly doesn't matter. Yes, it's time to be proud of a child's accomplishments. And yes, it's a time to celebrate school spirit, but shouldn't communities and schools be doing that on a daily basis?