Welcome Home: Alumni enjoy high-energy return to campus for Homecoming & Reunion Weekend 2021

Attendance was high for the three-day event which included twice the number of reunion celebrations and a host of entertainment, academic and athletic events.

The cool fall weather made the hearty greetings and warm hugs all the more meaningful as thousands of alumni and their families returned to Elon’s campus for Homecoming & Reunion Weekend 2021.

Held in person this year after a switch to virtual events in 2020, Homecoming & Reunion Weekend included a packed schedule spread across three days with events designed to help Elon alumni reconnect with each other and the university they love. The weekend included performing arts and musical entertainment events along with a robust tailgating experience and a chance to cheer on the Phoenix in Rhodes Stadium on Saturday, with the university celebrating the accomplishments of its alumni during multiple awards ceremonies.

Attendance was high, with reunions scheduled for 2020 postponed to this year, resulting in twice the number of reunion celebrations. Additionally, Homecoming offered a chance for classmates and friends to gather following a long stretch in which many events were canceled or held on a smaller scale due to the pandemic, said Brian Feeley ’03, assistant vice president for annual giving and alumni engagement.

“So many Elon alumni were eager to come together and reconnect on campus after we had been kept apart for so long,” Feeley said. “People came ready to celebrate, and it was so wonderful to have them back at Elon and enjoy the energy they brought to campus.”

When George Martin ’68 and Betsy Dearborn Miller ’68 attended Elon, the college was nearly all contained within the historic brick walls that line East Haggard and East Lebanon avenues. Martin said it was a time — “the best four years of my life” — when everyone on campus knew everyone else. But despite that growth, Martin said he still sees that personal connection on campus, as people greet each other, wave and stop to chat as they cross a campus that is much larger than when he was a student.

“The university is so different from when I was here, but those core values and personal connections are still there,” Martin said. “Elon is not the bricks and mortar — it’s the people.”

Miller grew up in Salisbury where her father was president of Catawba College. Looking for a place to pursue her degree, she said she set foot on Elon’s campus and immediately knew it was the place for her. “I wanted to go somewhere and be myself, and Elon was the wonderful place,” Miller said.

Miller and Martin have been more regular about attending Homecoming since their 50th reunion in 2018. “I absolutely love coming back to Elon,” Miller said. “It’s like coming home.”

Alumni began arriving on campus on Friday to kick off the weekend, with the university celebrating four special alumni — Priscilla Awkard ’95, Steve Ellington ’80, Michelle Wideman ’00 and Kevin Gilmore ’96 — at the Distinguished Alumni Awards Luncheon and Ceremony at The Inn at Elon. The day offered an opportunity for campus tours, reunion gatherings, open houses hosted by academic departments and organizations and other events.

Alumni gathered in the heart of campus Friday night for the annual Rock the Block celebration.

Friday night East Haggard Avenue closed down for the Rock the Block celebration that brought food, fireworks and fun to the heart of Elon’s campus. Fireworks painted the sky over Moseley Center as President Connie Ledoux Book offered welcoming remarks to alumni and their family members. McCrary Theatre hosted the Department of Performing Arts’ production of “42nd Street” and McKinnon Hall was filled with the sounds of The Magnificents.

Saturday brought more opportunities to celebrate the achievements of more alumni with the Elon Black Alumni Network hosting its 25th Anniversary Alumni Awards Brunch at The Inn at Elon and the LGBTQIA Community Enrichment Awards announced in McKinnon Hall.

Rock the Block offered an opportunity for alumni to enjoy food, fun and music.

The Alumni Tailgate Village beside Lake Mary Nell as the Phoenix prepared to take on Villanova in Rhodes Stadium offered another chance for alumni of all years to gather together to swap stories, snap photos and catch up with each other. During the game, the university recognized the newest members of the Elon Athletics Hall of Fame as well as members of the 1980 and 1981 national championship football teams.

For Emily and Nick Markunas ’05, the weekend was a chance to introduce their 17-month daughter to Elon for the first time. The couple met at Elon and recently moved back to North Carolina after living on the West Coast. Settling in Charlotte meant they were close enough to attend Homecoming this year and participate in their 5th Reunion, which was pushed back to this year due to the pandemic.

“We’re looking forward to taking pictures all around campus with our daughter and beginning to build those memories here with her,” Emily Markunas said.

Rená Mauldin Wall ’90, Dorene Williams ’86 and Alica Gaddy ’85 have made it a point to attend Homecoming for about the past 15 years, and note that with each year, the event feels even more festive with so many ways for alumni to gather during the weekend. Wall said she appreciates the effort that the university has put into maintaining those connections with alumni through communications and events.

Saturday’s football game offered an opportunity to celebrate the national championship teams from 1980 and 1981.

“When I come back to campus, it still has that hometown feeling, like everybody is part of the Elon family,” Wall said.

Wall said all three of them give back to Elon because of that continued connection they feel to the university. “That is really so important,” she said. “We want future students to benefit from what we give, and to carry on that tradition.”

Williams said she’s always excited to return to Elon and see how it has grown, but also to see how it preserves its history. A former resident of West Hall, Elon’s oldest residence hall, Williams said it’s important to maintain that history and build upon it.

The trio was seated next to Lake Mary Nell, looking out over the water as they grabbed a bite to eat before heading into the football game. Williams said this spot, close to the shore of Lake Mary Nell, is her favorite spot on campus.

“This is a place I could always feel at home at Elon,” she said. “This is Elon, right here.”