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Parents and alums share some weekend enthusiasms in common - in this case, a key football matchup. (Peg Skorpinski photos)
 

Come home (and visit the kids)
Homecoming and Parents Weekend draws fall crowds to campus events

| 10 October 2007

For those who work in a college environment, anywhere across the country, the word homecoming evokes a distinct sense of season and place. Just as graduation is a day in June, conceptually, so is homecoming a weekend in fall. As such, it's invariably accompanied by shorter evenings, cooler weather, and - in certain heartland locales - the crunch of helmets atop young bodies bound for January bowl games that don't have the word "Holiday" in their name.

Things aren't all that different at Berkeley, though that might comes as a surprise to those who don't know us. This campus has experienced shorter evenings at this very time of year for more than a century, after all. And cool October weather, while nowhere near as reliable, isn't so unusual either.

That leaves the crunch business. We'll get to that later, if there's time.

For the phalanx of alumni who arrive on campus around this time each year, the same sense of season and place is preceded by an equally keen feeling of anticipation. For them the weekend is something to look forward to: a time to tell old stories and haunt old haunts . . . to appreciate old friends who made the trip to Cal one more time, and to ask about others who didn't, or couldn't.  

Conjoin yourself

Have you noticed that homecoming, anywhere in these 50 states, typically occurs between the start of classes in the fall and the student diaspora occasioned by the year-end holidays? Bringing in the sheaves and all that may be part of the story in many places: Pa and Brother more'n likely have to grease the millet and grind the combine before heading off to visit Sis over to the college.

But can that be the explanation here in Northern California, where autumnal celebrations focus primarily on the latest possible zinfandel crush and the end of great white shark season?


It's a multigenerational whirlygig hereabouts during Homecoming and Parents Weekend. Alumni sit in classrooms once again (above), as parents - and their kids - tour the campus (below).
 

Consider the question, but understand this: A new tradition is extending its run this year at Berkeley, where Homecoming has for some time been conjoined with Parents Weekend. That timing is biologically determined: Science tells us that the midway point between Move-In Week and Thanksgiving is the precise moment when the parents of a great many college students migrate, often at enormous expense, to "check in" on their offspring, bring them clothing, and ask them casual-seeming questions about Telegraph Avenue. And while they're here they often like to take in a lecture, a nice meal, or a sports event.

This year, more parents than ever are clamoring for the weekend-long Cal experience; enrollment for Parents Weekend is up 800 people from last year's already strong attendance. It's tempting to speculate that the boffo box office is due to something other than the standard array of seminars, tours, and open houses provided for parents to enjoy each year, beguilingly informative as they are. Might it be the undeniable appeal of a top-ranked football team at the height of its form? You might well ask - though not even the most prescient parent could have predicted both an undefeated season and a Stanford win over USC.

Diana Musto, director of Cal Parents, isn't sure why the numbers are up so high. She isn't even sure, from moment to moment, whether she's more excited about Homecoming or Parents Weekend. "Whatever you call it," she says, "it's a time the whole Cal family comes together. After all, parents have been missing their students for eight weeks."

That may not sound like a particularly extended period of separation to some, but when Musto says it, she draws the last two words out and underscores them for added emphasis, showing that she regards those 56 days as equivalent, in the minds of the parents who are her anxious phone and e-mail petitioners at the start of each school year, to waiting out a solar revolution of Jupiter. 


Teary family reunions aside, says Musto, Parents Weekend is an opportunity for those who haven't yet visited Berkeley "to come see what goes on here every day." And indeed, to provide a taste of what students experience all semester, the campus has arranged more than 25 faculty seminars for visiting parents and alums, as well as a variety of tours and open houses. Staff and faculty with no rooting interest in the weekend - genetically or otherwise - could nonetheless do worse than to choose from this particularly deep menu of options.

Topics being addressed in faculty seminars range from foreign policy after the war in Iraq, the potential effects of such technologies as blogs and social-network services in China, and the birth of the universe to the nature of job burnout and the relationship between poisoned frogs and human health. (See a complete schedule.)

Among the tours and open houses on tap are those conducted by the UC Police Department (Friday, 10-11 a.m.), the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology (Friday, 11 a.m.-noon), and the Hearst Museum of Anthropology (Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.). Visitors interested in learning how the campus has lightened its footprint on the planet might enjoy the Cal Sustainability Walking Tour (Saturday, 2 p.m.), while those with a taste for innovative audio programming can help KALX, the campus's scrappy radio station, celebrate its 45th anniversary with an open house of its own (Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.).

A tasty lunch accompanied by live entertainment from student groups will be served up at the Bear Affair Barbeque (Saturday, 12:30-3:30 p.m.) on the Campanile Esplanade ($20, adults; $15, children ages 4-11; free for children under 3). For the biggest display of Cal spirit, head to the Game-Day Rally (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Sproul Plaza) where the Cal Band, Oski, and the UC Rally Committee will put on a pre-game blue-and-gold show.

They're coming Bach for the weekend

Cal Performances is presenting a trio of varied events - all with a $5 discount for Homecoming attendees (present a valid CAA membership card, or mention the Homecoming discount when purchasing tickets at the Zellerbach Hall box office or by phone at 642-9988). The Bach Festival features Angela Hewitt performing J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book Two on piano (Friday, 8 p.m., First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way). Bunraku, The National Puppet Theatre of Japan makes its first return to Cal Performances in 25 years this weekend (Saturday, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 3 p.m., Zellerbach Hall) with an art form that combines music, narration, and puppetry. Or check out the Taylor Eigsti Quartet (Saturday, 8 p.m., Wheeler Hall). Eigsti, a pianist and a two-time Grammy nominee, spent his formative years in Menlo Park, and has performed with Dave Brubeck and James Moody.

Opportunities abound to get riled up and ready for the biggish game against Oregon State. The traditional noon rally takes place Friday in Sproul Plaza. Homecoming Rally (Friday, 10-11 p.m., Haas Pavilion) will hark back to yesteryear circa 1950, with performances by Cal spirit groups and alumni as well as prizes and contests. Those still fired up can join revelers at the base of the Campanile as they sing favorite Cal fight songs at midnight (Friday).

Finally, Team Tedford won't be the only squad playing this weekend. The women's field-hockey team will tackle Wake Forest on Friday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m. (Maxwell Family Field), while women's volleyball goes head-to-head with Washington State on Friday at 6 p.m. (Haas Pavilion).

For more information, visit homecoming.berkeley.edu.