College prepares to welcome alumni and students to in-person Homecoming

Along with the traditional bonfire and associated festivities, the College will host several virtual events.

by Parker O'Hara | 10/7/21 5:10am

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The top of the bonfire will feature both the Class of 2024 and the Class of 2025's number.

by Oliver De Jonghe / The Dartmouth

After a year-long recess from the tradition, Homecoming will officially return to Hanover this weekend. Both students and alumni look forward to a weekend of festivities, community and celebration. 

Events are set to begin on Friday, Oct. 8 and continue through Saturday afternoon, according to the Dartmouth Alumni Homecoming page. On Friday evening festivities will begin with the freshman Homecoming parade, followed by the bonfire. On Saturday, Dartmouth Football will host Yale University at 1 p.m. at Memorial Field, with class reunions taking place outside on the Alumni Gym lawn after the football game.

Matt Koff ’25 said there seems to be a much anticipated return to a sense of normalcy.

“I'm really happy to see the energy on campus,” Koff said, adding that there seems to be “just a lot of excitement, happiness, and relief.”

According to an email statement from vice president of alumni relations Cheryl Bascomb, in a normal year, the College typically anticipates close to 5,000 alumni to visit for Homecoming weekend. However, she said she could not provide an expected estimate for visitors this weekend.

“This year, much is unknown in terms of how people will want to gather during the time of [COVID-19] that I couldn’t tell you what numbers are likely to show up,” Bascomb wrote. 

According to director of alumni engagement Joe Piedrafite, though the arrival of possibly thousands of alumni from across the country may cause some concern of a COVID-19 spike, all existing safety measures will remain in place through the weekend. These measures, according to the Dartmouth Health and Prevention website, include required indoor masking and weekly testing for students, faculty and staff. Additionally, Piedrafite noted that most of the Homecoming programming will take place outdoors, further minimizing the risk of community spread. 

Besides in-person events, the College will also be offering virtual opportunities to participate in Homecoming. According to Bascomb, Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin will lead a session about college admissions on Friday, followed by a “Back to School Q&A” about the Orozco Murals on Saturday, which will be hosted by art history professor Mary Coffey. Both events will take place on Zoom, according to the online Homecoming schedule.

Bonfire build chair Kashan Mahmood ’24 is working both to help construct the wooden numbers that sit atop the bonfire and recruit other students to assist in building the bonfire structure itself.

This year will diverge from past years in that two classes’ wooden numbers  — the Class of 2024 and the Class of 2025 — will sit atop the structure together, according to Mahmood. Because Homecoming was in an entirely virtual format last year, both classes will be experiencing their first in-person Homecoming bonfire.

As a ’24, Mahood said he is especially excited for this weekend.

“I’m just excited to experience the Dartmouth traditions with my friends,” Mahmood said. “I feel like I’m a college student, rather than feeling so isolated like we did last year.”

Alec Stern ’25 said the bonfire is the most “uniquely Dartmouth” tradition at Homecoming, particularly for freshmen. 

“I’m definitely looking forward to the bonfire,” Stern said. “I’ve heard so much about it from upperclassmen, and it’s something so special to this school.”

According to Hanover fire chief Martin McMillan, in cooperation with the Hanover Fire Department, the College established a safety plan in 2018 that included a downsized version of the bonfire — designed by engineering professor Douglas Van Citters — the addition of a “collapse zone” and a limit on the number of times students were permitted to circle the bonfire. In past years, freshmen would traditionally run around the fire the number of times equivalent to their graduating year; however, beginning in 2018, the new rules allowed students to walk around the fire only once. 

Despite the perennial safety concerns, McMillan remains optimistic about the event.

“We want this tradition to continue,” McMillan said. “We want it to happen in a safe manner and we fully support the College and the changes that they've made.”

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