Students, faculty attend homecoming in person

Allison Markman and Vidhatrie Keetha

“To me, Homecoming is HM at its heart,” Clementine Bondor (11) said. “The joy and enthusiasm that can be found there each year are difficult to find in such high concentration at any other time.”

The school held Homecoming in-person last Saturday with COVID-19 protocols in place. Guests entered campus through checkpoints, where they were required to show proof that they were fully vaccinated. For those who could not show proof of vaccination, the school provided on-site rapid testing kits prepared, Director of Alumni Relations Kristin Lax said. Children under the age of 12 were not allowed to attend the event, with the exception of student-athletes’ younger siblings, Lax said. 

During the event, students attended sports games and participated in a variety of activities in the Homecoming tent, such as ping pong, a photobooth, and arcade games. For those who could not make it in person, sports events were streamed live over Zoom, and alumni panels were featured on the Homecoming website alongside student-led forums. 

Alumni were not able to attend the event, with the exception of college-aged alumni, Director of Development Melissa Parento said. Older alumni were not allowed in order to protect the health of students, especially with the rise in Delta variant cases, she said.  

“When you look at who’s been on the fields and attending Homecoming for the last 20 years, there’s no comparison in terms of the number of students and parents that come versus the number of alumni that come back,” Parento said. “Going into Homecoming, we felt like it was really important to try and protect that opportunity for the current students.”

For Parento, Homecoming is not solely an event for alumni. “While it definitely is an opportunity for alumni to come back to campus and see teachers, and people certainly do every year, Homecoming at Horace Mann has really evolved over generations for something that’s like a flagship event for the high school students,” she said. 

Although older alumni could not attend Homecoming, the fact that college-aged alumni were allowed on campus was meaningful, Lax said. “One of the soccer players from the Class of 2021 came through our checkpoint, and exclaimed, ‘Watch! I’m gonna walk over to the soccer team, and they’re all gonna hug me and be so happy to see me,’ and that’s exactly what happened,” she said.

Dean of Students Michael Dalo appreciated seeing the alumni who were allowed to attend, he said. “It was really a nice moment to see some of the alums who did come back, who haven’t been able to be on campus for so long,” he said. “We had some alums from [the Class of 2020] who haven’t been here since school shut down.”

Usually, Upper Division Library Department Chair Caroline Bartels enjoys reuniting with her former advisees and other alumni during Homecoming. However, because the event took place during a long weekend, she chose not to attend this year, she said. “[Homecoming] pits my desire to actually have a three day weekend and go away with friends against wanting to see students,” she said. “I think it really is a hard call for a lot of faculty here. They need a break right now.”

A highlight of the event for Ellie Romero (9) was watching the football game with her friends, she said. “They got so into it, and it was very funny watching the football team cheer so loudly,” she said.

Although attendee numbers were limited, Alexa Schwartz (11) felt the atmosphere of Homecoming was fun, she said. 

Schwartz attended the event to support her peers, she said. “I love attending school wide events with all of the spirit,” she said. “I love seeing everyone decked out in their HM clothes.”

Dalia Pustilnik (12) attended Homecoming to support her friends, who participated in various sports, she said. “All my friends who are on teams got to play at Homecoming, so that was super fun.” 

Jack Bleichmar (11) is grateful for the school’s faculty, who made it possible to hold Homecoming in-person during a pandemic. “Though we had to wear masks, the event as a whole felt pretty similar to past years, the energy was definitely the same,” he said. 

Bleichmar enjoyed spending time in the Homecoming tent, playing ping pong, and watching the football and soccer games, he said.

Because parents have not been able to come to campus during the pandemic, Cathy Trentalancia P ‘23 was particularly excited to attend Homecoming in person. “I wanted the opportunity to be back on campus to celebrate and cheer on the incredible HM spirit that has been so incredibly resilient during these challenging times. It was very moving to see so many happy faces.”

Jelle Westra P ‘23 was excited to support his daughter, who is on the Field Hockey team. After a year and half without larger gatherings, attending Homecoming made Westra feel like life was slowly returning to normal, he said. 

For Bondor, in-person Homecoming marked a transition into normalcy. “We still have dividers in the cafeteria, but entire families were walking around campus with plates of burgers,” she said. “The change was welcome. I can only hope that the success of Saturday can serve as a reminder of how far we’ve come since the start of the pandemic, and hopefully signify a new chapter in HM life.”

Homecoming was also a social experience for attendees. Amanda Salzhauer P ‘23, ‘20, ‘18 enjoyed reuniting with students, faculty, and staff whom she had not seen since before the pandemic, she said. 

While others saw Homecoming as a return to normalcy, Salzhauer still felt the effects of the pandemic. “The presence of masks, which is somewhat normalized at this point, and the fact that attendance was limited for safety were definitely reminders of the impact of COVID,” she said.

Though COVID-19 precautions affected aspects of Homecoming, Trentalancia had a positive experience. “Everything felt exceptional,” she said. “There is so much effort that goes into these events, and I think everyone really appreciated that more than ever this year. I’m so happy I was there to experience the excitement.”