Fictionalized or real, homecoming a chance to relive campus joys

By Kendra Johnson

Homecoming is a celebration steeped in history and tradition that brings students--past and present--together on their respective campuses to reflect on years past while anticipating their alma mater's future growth.

For the characters in Curtis Bunn's "Homecoming Weekend," homecoming is also a time to impress their former peers, revisit past relationships, and satisfy missed opportunities. In his novel, Bunn suggested that homecoming weekend for students who attended a historically black college or university is also a period of personal celebration as they reflect on their growth from adolescences to adulthood.

"[The HBCU is] the place that raised us from teenagers to adults," he wrote. "It's the place really where we matured and grew up. The school put its arms around us and hugged us when we were hungry or scared or uncertain. Homecoming is a celebration of all that."

Set on the campus of Norfolk State University, "Homecoming Weekend" chronicles the return of 10 alumni to their school. Each has their own motive for returning, but during their visit, they all hope to accomplish a similar goal: to condense and relive their undergraduate experience into two days.

As Hampton University alums prepare to return to their beloved "Home by the Sea," this weekend, some of them also hope to relive the highpoints of their undergraduate years.

Toiya Turknett, a 2012 graduate, said she is most excited to return for homecoming because she misses her friends.

"Some of the people I befriended during my time at Hampton have stuck with me since freshman year," said the Augusta, Ga. native. "We try to keep in contact on a regular basis, but it's really not the same since I don't get to see them everyday. This weekend I need to have so much fun with my friends that it lasts me until our next homecoming."

Turknett said that graduating earlier this year caused her to be propelled into adulthood, something she was sure she was ready for until it confronted her head on.

"Some days I wake up and say 'I don't want to do this anymore,'" Turknett said. "I want to wake up and not have a care in the world and not have to make adult decisions. Thank goodness this weekend is here because I can promise you I won't be making the mature decisions my parents would probably like me to make. This is definitely a 'what happens at homecoming stays at homecoming' weekend."

Edmund Dunn, 25, has returned to Hampton for two homecoming celebrations since he graduated in 2009. He will not attend this year's homecoming because he is not where he hoped to be financially, personally, or professionally.

"I wish I could come to homecoming this year, said Dunn of Chicago, "but it's like going home for Thanksgiving and being that family member that hasn't done anything with their life or doesn't have something good to say about themselves. Some people I graduated with are married with kids, or doing big things with their careers. I'm not. I don't want to be that family member. "

Dunn said he probably won't attend another homecoming celebration until five years have passed.

"I've put myself on a little five-year plan and hopefully it works out," he said. "Hopefully by then, when I come back, people will look at me like 'life's been good to him.'"

Deidra Tyler, 43, returns to homecoming every year because she said it fills a void she has harbored since she left Hampton. Tyler did not graduate from Hampton, at the conclusion of the fall semester of her junior year she withdrew from the university.

"That saying about college isn't for everyone isn't true," said Tyler of Richmond, Va. "There was no doubt college was for me, especially Hampton, but I had a lot going on at the time. My heart broke the moment my father drove me away from campus and I knew I wouldn't be coming back as a student."

Tyler went on to complete her undergraduate coursework through an online degree program. While her degree may have another school's name printed on it, Hampton, she said, will always be her alma mater.

"Life truly started for me the moment I stepped foot on this campus as a freshman," said Tyler. "A large portion of who I am was born on this campus, that's why I come back every chance I get. I love Hampton and I believe Hampton loves me and homecoming is the perfect time to display that love."

The writer is a senior in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.

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