The spectacle of homecoming weekend at a Big Ten university would flummox most graduates of universities outside the US and quite a few folks from within the fifty states. If you know Oxbridge traditions; take a gaudy, The Boat Race, and May Week; then roll them into one.
Homecoming week at Northwestern inevitably falls the same week that the most intensive scholarship applications have deadlines. Thus I watched my 15th and 20th reunion parties take place across the street from my office window as I worked on recommendations and last minute draft reviews. This year, I decided since I would need to work late on Friday night anyway, I might as well take a break and march in the parade with the residential college where I am a fellow.
It certainly seemed the right year to make my move. The hoopla reached astronomical heights. ESPN (America’s best known sports network) broadcast their trademark radio show in the meadow opposite my office, one of the co-hosts was the parade grand marshall, and their “College Game Day” broadcast took place near the parking lot where I typically leave my car each work day.
Thus, at six, on an unseasonably warm October evening, I sped-walked, sweating from a late-running Fulbright rating meeting, to join those far younger and more energetic than I and walked back up the same street screaming “Go U NU!” in a manner surely undignified for a forty-three year old woman wearing a blazer and broach. The blazer was a perfect Northwestern wildcat purple, but still…..
My so-called #PurplePride swelled at the soft Mumbaikar accent of the young man who carried our residential college banner wafted over mariachi music into my ears. This seemed to me a rather sweet example of international education.
The international student so enthralled with this exotic experience that he led the cheers of midwestern kids who likely marched in their high school homecoming parade and for whom the exercise might otherwise have gotten a bit old hat.
Behind us, a half dozen Latino & Latina students spun beneath their sombreros while treating us to a delightful string of tunes. Two diasporas serenaded each other at the celebration of a university founded to educate the residents and honor the purchase of The Northwest Territory. As a historian, I seriously doubt Thomas Jefferson ever imagined anything so marvelously multi-colored and multi-cultural.
When the parade ended, I made my way back through the crowd and to my office. My windows wide open, the cheerleaders’ chants and marching band’s crescendos rode the breeze straight from the pep rally stage into my ears. My notes to applicants that they needed to fix this or that prior to submission now carried an extra urgency. Our provost once enjoined our winners party of Fulbrighters and other students about to embark on international adventures that they should go forth and wear their purple sweatshirts around the globe. Our institution prepared them to secure funding and represent us well. My British colleagues would probably consider such a visible display of institutional affection “a bit naff.” Nonetheless, as I sat at my keyboard, I imagined each student not only an ambassador for the nation but also for the institution I can not help but love.
Evanston, Illinois in the US.
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is a member of the University of Venus editorial collective; a contributor to The Historical Society Blog; and an associate director of the Office of Fellowships at Northwestern University, where she teaches History and American Studies. For more, follow @ejlp on Twitter or go to http://elizabethlewispardoe.com.