Illinois remembers, celebrates meaning behind 108-year tradition

By Ava Traverso, Contributing Writer

Homecoming Week is here, and it is the perfect time to look into the  past surrounding how the tradition began in the first place. The University of Illinois began homecoming celebrations in the 20th century, and it is still known for being one of the first universities in the country to have hosted an event of this kind.

The founding of Illinois’ Homecoming was spearheaded back in 1910 by two seniors, Clarence Foss Williams and W. Elmer Ekblaw. They originally came up with the idea to honor their University for all it had done for them.

Alumni and students would likely agree Williams and Ekblaw have accomplished their goal.

The two men had to get their idea approved by the two senior honorary societies of the time, which were the Shield and Trident as well as the Phoenix. Through the collaboration of the three parties, the commemoration was born.

At the time of the inaugural Homecoming, the great rival of the Illini happened to be the University of Chicago Phoenixes. The excitement surrounding the gathering is visible in the University’s official statement from 1910: “This will be the biggest gathering of the sons and daughters of the University and their friends ever drawn together. The University requests, almost demands, that all her alumni and alumnae return for the event.”

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The Illini then finally beat the Phoenixes after a seven-year losing streak. After the success of the first Homecoming celebration, it was clear to the crowd it was the beginning of a new era.

The Homecoming tradition has become a timeless in symbolizing the reunion of alumni and current students in their love of the University and all it stands for; however, the celebration is not all about football or tailgating.

In 1924, Homecoming was dedicated to the students who lost their lives in World War I. Memorial Stadium was constructed in their honor, and it now houses 200 columns with the students’ names printed on them.

The meaning of the celebration has truly made Homecoming a treasured memory for those who have been a part of it. Almost 108 years after the start of the tradition, it has stood the test of time and has become foundational to the University’s spirit and history.

Even though the rival and century may have changed, the admiration for the University that helped birth the Homecoming tradition has persevered and strengthened through the years.

This week, carry on the tradition and enjoy your University.

Ava is a sophomore in ACES.

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