Life is returning to normal for Lee University after more than 1,200 alumni and 2,500 total guests returned to campus for a record-setting Homecoming weekend. “This was our 53rd Homecoming,” explained Jerome Hammond, vice president for University Relations, “and the largest attendance on record.” Mr. Hammond said that two significant reunions and several new initiatives account for the large crowd.
The Lee Singers and Alpha Gamma Chi both celebrated 50th anniversaries during the Homecoming program. The Lee Singers brought back nearly 500 alumni representing each of the five decades from 1963 to 2013. “It felt so amazing to be back together with everyone,” said Dwayne McLuhan, a 1968 Lee graduate from Sun City, Ariz. “It’s like you pick up right where you left off.” The Greek club Alpha Gamma Chi also hosted a luncheon drawing more than 300 alumni to campus.
In addition to the reunions Mr. Hammond said some important changes help to explain the turnout. “A few years ago the university recognized that Homecoming needed updating to better reflect alumni interests. We also recognized the need to improve how we connect with alumni throughout the year. The combination of those changes has made Homecoming weekend more enjoyable for our alumni.”
A major addition to Homecoming was the introduction of departmental breakfasts. For the first time, alumni were invited to join their college professors for breakfast and a brief program. Each of the nine breakfasts featured an update from the department Chair, a keynote speech by a special guest, and the presentation of a departmental distinguished alumnus award. “We had no idea these would be so popular,” said Patti Cawood, director of Alumni Relations. “We thought alumni would like this element, but no one anticipated the great turnout. It must be true that alumni really like their profs.”
Other new events included “Lawyers at Lee,” a reception for alumni working in the legal profession; Alumni Q&A, a panel of successful alumni answering student questions about life after college; Lee 2.0, a reception for current students with familial relations to a Lee alumnus; and Blessing of the Couples, a brief devotional ceremony in front of the Lee Chapel performed by the campus pastor.
any of the more familiar events were on the homecoming schedule as well. The Grand Reunion returned as the preferred event for all alumni to gather and enjoy Friday night. Dr. Paul Conn fired the starting gun for the Homecoming 5K through downtown Cleveland and Lee’s Campus. Lee students again set up booths early Saturday morning at the Homecoming Tailgate Party, giving alumni an update about clubs, choirs, academics and more.
Following the tailgate party, students and alumni lined the sidewalk to cheer on the Flames as they entered the Walker Arena for the Homecoming ballgame. At the popular music festival the Lee Singers reunion choir took the stage with close to 500 alumni. “It was really cool to see the people that paved the way,” said Lee Singer alum Emilei Disbrow. “Even the charter members were full of excitement to see their old friends.”
A victory for Lee at the seventh annual Volley for A Cure helped to raise over $40,000 for breast cancer awareness and the Mary Ellen Locher Foundation of Chattanooga.
Alumni filled the Walker Arena and cheered on the Flames to an 86-76 victory against rivals, Tennessee Temple. The Lady Flames also took home a victory with 72-46 over Bryan College.
Mr. Hammond expects next year to be even bigger. “You don’t get many of these and people realize it,” he says. “Everyone is on Facebook, but there’s nothing like hugging old friends, having coffee with a favorite professor, or yelling like a teenager in a packed Walker Arena. Homecoming is special.”