Homecoming 2012: Luncheon, Legacy, and Lessons

The white tents were up. Families were roaming through campus. Alumni left and right. Another year, another Homecoming at Cal.

Legacy Night was but one one glittering example of Homecoming magic. An annual joint effort of the California Alumni Association (CAA) and Student Alumni Relations Council (SARC), the event brings student leaders and Cal alumni together amidst food and lively musical performances.

Legacy Night has a special place in my heart because I volunteered at the event as a freshman, working with other students to serve students and alumni dinner as they exchanged stories of Cal from past and present. From behind a screen of potted trees I surveyed the glittering lights strung across the Alumni House patio, feeling a ridiculously girlish smile spread across my face as the UC Men’s Octet performed for the distinguished audience. The other volunteers and I marveled at the food, the atmosphere, and the ambiance, glad that we were able to contribute to that special night.

Now, here I was in the lobby of Alumni House, no longer clad in the strict black and white attire of a volunteer, but in my own choice of business casual wear. Having arrived considerably early, I took my time exploring my surroundings and talking to the representatives of CAA and SARC. A couple of alumni had arrived. Imagine my astonishment when I realized one of them was a close mentor and friend of mine – who I had developed a relationship with starting my freshman year. I noted the irony to myself, thinking that perhaps I was in for more of a surprise at this iteration of Legacy Night than I had anticipated.

By half past seven the event was in full swing. There were performances by the Golden Overtones, UC Men’s Octet, and AIR. Alumni and students, all smiles, clustered around cocktail tables over hors d’oeuvres and sparkling beverages. Conversation drifted from travel to alumni associations to football back in the good ol’ days.

Several students I happened to meet were Haas hopefuls. It hit me as I discussed the application process that I was standing here, in the thick of things, where I had wondered at the interaction– is it possible? – three years ago. Students were looking to me for advice, and I was introducing alumni and students I knew to these same hopefuls. How did I get here? (The Men’s Octet was in arm’s range, for goodness sake!)

I think it was best said by one HBSA President (that super-human in disguise as a student in a suit and blue-and-gold striped tie), in response to concerns voiced by a potential Haas student on the competitive nature of the business major: We’re not looking for those students who are narrow-minded and self-centered, stepping on their peers to get to the top. Group work is a huge part of Haas. Those of us, who learn to help each other, motivate each other are healthier and happier. Community, culture – that’s what it’s all about.

Haas: Past, Present, and Future

It was a wonder to see the interaction between past, current, and future members of the Haas community circle up in conversation. It was a greater wonder to realize I myself had been in these hopefuls’ shoes not so long ago and that much had changed since then: my knowledge, my involvements, certainly the amount of time I spent on my studies. Yet some things were just the same: a focus on personal performance to maintain sanity in what can sometimes seem like a sea of ruthless competition, a gravitation toward bright and personable individuals (which fortunately abound throughout campus), a desire to experience alumni interaction on my terms rather than those dictated by the greater Networking Powers That Be, and a true appreciation for the opportunities offered to us all as Cal Students.


Surprise from Cal Band

The next afternoon, still a tad elated by the thrill of Legacy Night, I was fortunate enough to sit in on the Golden Bear Luncheon for reunion classes from the ‘40s (yes, you read that right) to the ‘60s. Enjoying the fresh air in Campanile Esplanade, we feasted on the sights and sounds and tastes of autumn. Featuring performances by the Cal Band and Golden Overtones, with a special appearance by the good-natured and humorously self-deprecating Chancellor, the luncheon truly celebrated Cal Alumni. One had studied physics at Berkeley only to pursue a career in Business Law, had traveled to Chile and much of South America, and had taught at the San Jose State, the university of my hometown. A father and son pair of alumni at my table joked about their shared last name. Another alumnus had run track for the university in the ‘40s. With the help of some fellow bears, he was able to recover what seemed and ancient yearbook to sign his name next to a photo of himself, 71 years ago.

Like the pumpkin cheesecake that closed the meal, there was something particularly sweet and comforting in the spirit of the luncheon. As one alumnus remarked, the dessert evoked something uniquely American.  Similarly, the shared memories and gracious presence of the alumni present something uniquely Cal.


What better way to top off Homecoming weekend than a (victorious!) night game versus the Bruins? Memorial Stadium, newly re-dedicated, bled blue-and-gold. Through my involvement with The Californians I was able to hold the flag during half-time – and what an experience that was. I turned to a fellow Californian as we were on the field during the re-dedication ceremony, basking in the white glow of stadium lights.

“You know, you can tell your kids about this one day.”

She smiled wide and nodded in disbelief. “Yeah.”

One can think, too, of the stories we can tell, the experiences we can share, with our communities, with prospective students, and with the greater Cal community in all of its overwhelming vastness and diversity. For me, these snapshots of Homecoming serve as reminders of how fortunate I am to be part of something much beyond myself – some intangible essence floating around in the air of the great institution that is the University of California, Berkeley. Proud to be breathing in blue-and-gold, now and for years to come.

Go Bears.

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