Homecoming an opportunity for reminiscing, reacquainting
Last weekend, I did something that I always do around this time of the year. I have done this for almost 60 years, since my freshman days at Delaware State College, now Delaware State University. Perhaps I should couch things a bit differently and not indicate that I have done these things each year but rather indicate that I have attempted to continue to do these things over the years as I once did.
Now, I must admit that I cannot do what I have done over the past 60 years to the same degree as I used to do as, like many of you, my physical if not my mental thoughts must be modified. For those of you that are in your 60s or older, you can attest that getting older becomes a major challenge in your lifestyles. In a column last year, I referenced words that I attributed to W.C. Fields that some claim originated from other celebrities. You have heard these words: “You cannot be a sissy and get old.” Getting old changes one’s lifestyle; it takes very little to recognize that you cannot do the things that you once did. Quite often, things you once did, and things you may still want to do, are but a figment of your imagination. You know how it goes; the mind wants to do one thing but your body places limitations on what you can do. However, in spite of the way time has negatively impacted your actions, the memories remain.
Last weekend, I attempted to do some of those things even though old father time has modified what and how I do many things. So, what did I do last weekend? I participated in Delaware State University’s homecoming activities which brought back some fond and some not-so-fond memories from my college days of back in the day.
Age has not slowed me down a bit when it comes to my university’s homecoming activities. Each year, once I know the date for homecoming, I make a hotel reservation. I look forward to a variety of things during homecoming. But, what I look forward to most are the contacts with friends and associates that have thrived and endured over the years. Moreover, I become a bit melancholy knowing that many faces that have been visible at homecoming over the years will no longer be present. This year promised to be special because of a telephone conversation with a classmate that had been injured in an accident and went through a lengthy rehabilitation program. I met this young man when we were college freshman and we had no contact until the early part of this year. I learned from another classmate that I should reach out to him in light of his medical challenges. So, I reached out to him, after years without contact, and we maintained telephone contact for several months. Then, I learned that he would attend homecoming and I began to anticipate a coming together with someone that I only knew as “Vicious.” As I stood with a group of about five alumni at the Jerome Holland Statue Committee Reception, a reception for one of the college’s most revered presidents, someone casually addressed one of those in the group as Clarence Williams from Washington, D.C. The mention of Washington, D.C., caused me to focus in on this gentleman and his physical characteristics. While many, many years had passed, I observed enough in his person to ask, “Are you Vicious?” This was a heartwarming moment in my life that conjured up the kind of memories indicative of homecomings past. It also enabled me to learn the origin of the name Vicious, something I had wondered about for decades. It was funny to learn that he was given this name when law enforcement officials visited our campus looking for him due to a minor infraction. No, they were not on campus to pursue charges but rather to just see the person that managed to scale an eight-foot fence on what was described as “on a single bound.” This encounter brought to mind what many of you have experienced on your college campuses on homecomings. Just like with Vicious and my friends, you must have given thought to those students that were given nicknames during freshman orientation. While some are no longer with us, I could not help thinking about those with nicknames such as “Sweet Lou” as he was super cool; “Old Folk,” because he looked old enough to be in school under the G.I. Bill; “Junkie,” who had the characteristics of someone using illegal substances; “Block,” because he had a big head; “Long-John” as he was very tall; “Philly Joe,” because he was constantly using pencils to portray a drummer bringing to mind the jazz musician, Philly Joe Jones; “The Germ,” because he constantly washed his hands; “Buddha,” as he was quite large; and “The Captivator,” who thought all of the young ladies on campus were interested in him. These are just some of my college friends that continue to bring me warm memories to this day because of the relationships we established as freshmen, back in the day.
While old friends are my favorite memories of homecoming, it is difficult to visit the campus as I did on Saturday morning and not admire its picturesque appearance and the school’s significant growth and development over the past decade. Some of you have had similar reactions visiting your college or university campus. DSU has a beautiful “walking campus.” Clearly, what I see now is not what I saw when I arrived in 1958. Back then, the campus had a limited number of buildings, was moderately landscaped, had a limited number of students, was rumored to be closing and had little or no development. Unsightly cornfields could be observed. What a campus today! Large numbers of students, numerous classroom buildings and dormitories are visible everywhere, manicured greens have replaced the cornfields, and development is noticeable all around the While old friends are my favorite memories of homecoming, it is difficult to visit the campus as I did on Saturday morning and not admire its picturesque appearance and the school’s significant growth and development over the past decade. campus. If you have been in the vicinity of Delaware State University, you know that there is a major casino and racetrack nearby, a mall across the highway and major commercial development north and south of the campus. I recall when bus trips home meant going into the city of Dover to catch a bus. Today, there is a bus stop right on campus. Making a hotel reservation speaks to another major development since my early homecoming days. While hotels were almost nonexistent back in the day, there are hotels everywhere today. One building where a number of us gathered on homecoming Saturday morning was Conrad Hall, the school’s dining hall. The changes in the décor and the food offerings in the dining hall are worth special attention given what existed during my early years at Delaware State. The food and the atmosphere were so bad back then that I boycotted the dining room. Homecoming 2016 found me in a modern dining hall with many food stations and lots of food choices. This dining hall operation was under the direction of a food management company. What a big difference from campus life, back in the day.
Then, there are other things that reflect the growth and development of the school which are evident as I participate in homecoming activities at DSU over the years. The size of the homecoming parade has grown; it is more than just a few marching bands as was the case in the past. The appearance of Delaware State University’s equestrian team in the parade is another reflection of the school’s growth and programming. The homecoming game was held in a stadium with an instant replay screen and artificial turf. Even the number of young men on the football team was much greater than it was back in the day.
Finally, the after-game gatherings in designated places for all alumni represented something that did not exist in the past. As I reflected on all of the growth and development at Delaware State University, or Del State as we affectionately referred to it, my mind kept going back to my discussions with former classmates and other alumni from my era, wondering if we could have survived the growth and the accompanying temptations now found at the university; conditions and experiences that we were not exposed to, back in the day.
I have focused on some of my homecoming experiences at Delaware State University. But, I have little doubt that the same or similar experiences have been part of the homecoming of many of our Tribune readers. God willing, my participation in Delaware State University’s homecoming will continue in the future. While my body may say one thing, the tremendous fun and the unforgettable memories associated with Delaware State University will drive me to enjoy homecoming activities in future years just as I enjoyed DSU’s homecoming activities, back in the day.