Why is the fall dance called homecoming when no one is truly coming home?
Every year students dress up and take to the dance floors in the high school’s north gym, but when alumni come back from college, there’s nothing in Shaker to actually welcome them home.
Shaker, like most high schools, hosts reunions for its alumni, though they aren’t planned by the school. If graduates want to connect to their hometown and their teenage years, they must plan it themselves. Class reunions happen every 10 years, if that, so when alumni finally reconvene with the people with whom they spent their childhoods, they can be forgiven for not recognizing one another.
The school goes above and beyond to help their students achieve and move on from high school. But what does it do to help bring them home to remember where their lives began?
As Executive Director of the Shaker Schools Foundation Holly Coughlin is attuned to alumni relations. She suggested making homecoming a true “home-coming.” She’s decided to work with the athletic department, students and the city government to bring alumni back to their hometown during homecoming weekend. While here, alumni will partake in activities and ceremonies planned for them.
“We want to start connecting our alumni with the school that was important to them,” Coughlin said.
Coughlin wants to involve every graduating class possible. “The sky’s the limit!” she said.
However, she noted the need for using different modes of communication to contact the different classes; alumni ages range from 18 to 80. “I’m working with folks from the class of ‘50 and ‘51,” she said.
While alumni will return on the weekend of Shaker’s homecoming dance, they will not attend it. Rather, Coughlin has planned an alumni recognition ceremony at the homecoming football game.
“We’re going to have the ability to do more recognition,” she said. “The band’s been very cooperative. They’re going to reduce their show a little to give us more air time on the mic.”
Coughlin wants to recognize all alumni in attendance by decade, so an area of the stands at Russell H. Rupp Stadium will be designated alumni seating. Coughlin said graduates will be asked to stand by graduation year during the ceremony.
“The other thing we want to do is have an alumni tent at all the home football games,” Coughlin added. “We need to keep in touch. This was a special place — you all have memories that I don’t have from my high school where I grew up.”
The alumni tent will offer graduates a place to reconnect with classmates and watch the game together.
“We’re working with Matt Bartley, [Don] Readance and [Mike] Babinec so we can get clubs involved,” said Coughlin. “On the Saturday before the game, there’ll be a family festival.”
Every club will have its own tent and offer different activities. “We want the students to be involved in the festivities and we want it to have a philanthropic angle, too, so they can raise money for their causes,” Coughlin said.
“The athletic department would love to have an alumni soccer game,” said Coughlin. “We’re working with the different groups.” Coughlin met with band members and alumni that have agreed to play. “The goal is to really connect our alumni with the things they were passionate about.”
Another idea is to hold a community party the night before the homecoming dance, to which current Shaker families and alumni residents would be invited. Coughlin started working with the city to make these events happen.
Julie Voyzey, a communications and marketing specialist for the city, is working with Coughlin to incorporate city experiences into the plans. “Part of the goal of this event is to not only to connect people back to their school, but to connect them back to the city as a whole,” Voyzey said.
Voyzey also commented on people she likes to call “boomerangers”: people who grew up here and decided to come back after attending university, just as she did. Voyzey said that these events are “a great opportunity to re-engage with people who had a great experience in high school and loved their time here.”
Reconnection can be done anywhere, whether over social media or text, but this event is more than just reconnection. “We landed on doing a tour of the city because there are so many things in the city that have changed since many of these alumni have been here,” Voyzey said.
Beyond the activities, the overall goal for Coughlin and Voyzey is to re-establish a connection between graduates and their school.
“It’s an easy sell because people have an emotional connection, hopefully positive, to the school,” Voyzey said. “And so often these warm stories come out about people’s time in high school. So, I think the idea is to establish an ongoing conversation and connection with people who have left.”
The foundation has also created technological means to keep alumni connected. “We’re just about to launch a LinkedIn page for alumni. That will be a great way to start some dialogue,” said Coughlin. “We’re setting up Google alerts with all of our hall of fame members. We have a lot of things that are being put in place so we can hear and see what’s happening with our alums and start a conversation.”
Coughlin said that before she set anything up, she wondered what the school did for homecoming at Shaker. “You know, it’s the school dance, and there’s a football game, but nobody’s coming home,” she said. “So we wanted to make it a true homecoming.”
This story has been corrected to accurately report Coughlin’s professional title.