Alumni reminisce about college during Homecoming


Daily Illini File Photo

Students sit in front of the Illini Union as Homecoming 2017 begins on Oct. 26.

By Samantha Boyle, Assistant Daytime News Editor

With Illinois Homecoming 2018 about a month away, alumni from all over the country are planning their trips back to campus where they will reconnect with their college identities.

As a University alumna, Hongping Zhang found the alumni experience at homecoming events is correlated to the emotional attachment alumni have with their school and college town.

Zhang, graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Tourism, Recreation & Sport Management at the University of Florida, led a study which found alumni who come back for homecoming feel a sense of nostalgia using the theory of place attachment.

“I believe for those who (decide) to come back, it reminds them of a good time of when they were in school,” Zhang said. “So to experience the homecoming events again and experience the University spirits, hearing the music, looking at those colors, signs, it helps them relive the experience they had in the past.”

Zhang attended the University for two years as an international graduate student from China. She said she was completely unfamiliar with what homecoming was her first year. It took Zhang until the year after she graduated to watch the homecoming football game, she said.

    Sign up for our newsletter!

    To get the results of her study, Zhang surveyed around 350 alumni who do not live in their college towns anymore with a series of agree/disagree questions. She then came up with theories regarding why these results came out the way they did.

    Along with the University, the alumni surveyed were from Purdue University and Illinois State University. However, the identities of these alumni were kept anonymous.

    Zhang said about 70 percent of the surveyed alumni came back for homecoming one to 10 times since graduation.

    “People tend to search for nostalgic experiences because they have a certain identity that’s not showing in their everyday life,” Zhang said.

    Going back to college for homecoming would awaken some of these identities, she said. For example, people will often reconnect with old friends they met in college at homecoming who bring out an old identity.  

    Joy Huang, Zhang’s supervisor for the study and assistant professor in AHS at the University, said if alumni feel connected to their college identities, they tend to grow emotionally attached and therefore have a better homecoming experience.

    “We think college towns carry multiple identities,” Huang said. “It’s not only a place where many alumni have lived for several years, it’s when people leave, it becomes a place that is in their memories.”

    This nostalgic memory is what gives homecoming its special meaning, she said.

    Huang is a Purdue graduate student and said she feels a sense of nostalgia and meaning when returning for homecoming, too.

    “The homecoming event is special because it carries not only the sports event aspect but also it carries the university aspect,” she said.

    [email protected]