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A COVID Homecoming

By Katie Leeper | November 04
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Homecoming is arguably one of the most celebrated and cherished traditions at Virginia Tech. Homecoming is much more than a game - it is an opportunity for students, alumni and families to celebrate what it means to be a Hokie and return to the Blacksburg community they have come to love.

This year, I had the honor of serving as a candidate for Virginia Tech’s 2020 Homecoming Court alongside 11 other dedicated and passionate Hokies.

The selection process of Virginia Tech Homecoming Court is what sets it apart from colleges nationwide. While a majority of college candidates are chosen based on popularity, candidates at Virginia Tech are chosen for their commitment to Virginia Tech’s motto Ut Prosim - That I May Serve.

Each of us chose an issue close to our hearts which we presented throughout our campaign - ranging from inclusive initiatives to food insecurity to education equality to mental health awareness. Those selected as Homecoming Royalty are expected to put on a spring event to raise money for their chosen charity.

In response to the pandemic, many long-standing Hokie Homecoming traditions were virtual or canceled entirely to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. As the safety of our campus community is paramount, it is completely understandable why tailgating and attending sporting events has been strictly prohibited for the fall semester. Many feel, however, the Homecoming experience could have been made more exciting and more personal for students, candidates, families and alumni.

The Campfire Kickoff and Homecoming Parade was canceled while Homecoming’s Got Talent and the President’s Luncheon were virtual. Many believe the Homecoming Parade could have adhered to social distancing guidelines as each candidate would be in individual cars.

“In my past three years at Virginia Tech, I have been able to attend the parade and for two of those years be on a float. I think it provides an opportunity for Homecoming candidates to celebrate their successful campaigns with other members of their organization and the Blacksburg community.”

— Homecoming Royalty Andrew McCaffrey

While we as candidates appreciated President Sands hosting the virtual President’s Luncheon, it would have been a nice touch to have provided lunch at our socially distanced locations. With most locally-owned restaurants struggling in the wake of the pandemic, what an impact Virginia Tech could have made for the Blacksburg community if one was chosen to deliver lunch.

“As a first generation student, the President's Luncheon was amazing. Having the opportunity to meet people who are in such powerful positions at our school is something I never thought I'd be able to do. I wish we could have had more time to get a little more personal, but I did enjoy it.”

— Homecoming Court candidate

Usually the most exciting part of being on Homecoming Court is the halftime announcement at the Homecoming game. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Virginia Tech made the decision to hold the announcement Sunday, October 18th in front of an empty stadium. In an effort to provide normalcy, Virginia Tech live streamed the Homecoming announcements on Youtube. President Sands did give a virtual message, but it was only seen and heard by viewers on the live feed. Many candidates were disappointed that his heartfelt message was not shown to candidates on the field.

“The Homecoming Royalty announcement went so quick. It honestly felt a little impersonal with nobody else being there and because of President Sands' videos. We worked so hard for two weeks and it turned out to be a little bit anticlimactic - all of the hype is normally built up for the game, so once that ended, it felt like we were forgotten about in a way.”

— Homecoming Court candidate

In a stadium of over 60,000 seats, many candidates did not understand why our friends and families weren’t allowed to socially distance in Lane Stadium for the Homecoming announcement similarly to friends and families of athletes. The majority of the announcement was also inaudible to viewers as mics weren’t working - leaving candidates, friends and families extremely disappointed. As a Multimedia Journalism major, I have seen first hand the extensive equipment and personnel of the Communication Department at Virginia Tech - drawing into question why the announcement lacked high quality production.

“I was disappointed my parents were not allowed to escort me. I don't think the decisions for our announcement were justified fairly, especially because it was such a small event. I was happy I could have two friends come, but it was upsetting to not feel like you had much support there with you.”

— Homecoming Court candidate
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Virginia Tech has made extensive efforts to give some sort of normalcy to students, alumni and families in the wake of the pandemic. Virginia Tech Cheerleaders, Marching Virginians and High Techs were live streamed from the baseball field during the Homecoming game and Skipper the cannon was fired from the nearby practice fields - so why was it not possible to live stream the Homecoming announcements during the game at a separate location?

“I was looking forward to the Homecoming game and Royalty announcement the most. I remember cheering on one of my sorority sisters two years ago when she won and the energy was insane.”

— Homecoming Court candidate

The Homecoming Board of Virginia Tech worked tirelessly to make Homecoming week a memorable and inclusive event for both the student and alumni population in the midst of the pandemic with pre-recorded lectures, a live-streamed talent show, virtual spirit competitions and more.

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While the Homecoming Board of Virginia Tech Instagram page regularly shared Homecoming content with their 1,126 followers, there was no mention of Homecoming on the official Virginia Tech Instagram page - so many students, alumni and community members were unaware of Homecoming activities or the progressive changes made this year.

“I would say there is a clear gap of Homecoming awareness between upperclassmen and freshmen. This semester particularly made it a larger gap as I think freshman and new students have had less exposure to Virginia Tech traditions as a whole. Most were not aware unless they had a direct connection to one of the candidates.”

— Homecoming Royalty Andrew McCaffrey
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An Instagram with 106K followers obviously reaches far more students, alumni and community members than an Instagram page of 1,126 followers. In years prior, the official Virginia Tech Instagram has been extremely vocal about Homecoming week - drawing into question why Homecoming was overlooked this year, a year in which it’s paramount to connect Virginia Tech to its virtual population. Even though we as candidates were able to set up socially-distanced booths on campus to campaign to the student population, we relied heavily on social media campaigning due to strict coronavirus guidelines. It would have made it easier to spread awareness if the official Virginia Tech Instagram page shared Homecoming content.

“Virtual campaigning was definitely a change of pace from the Homecoming campaigns of years prior. I felt that there was an added emphasis on the use of social media and more digital marketing platforms. This was especially exaggerated during the first week of campaigning when we had yet to start boothing around campus.”

— Homecoming Royalty Andrew McCaffrey
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“I think Virginia Tech could have better advertised virtual Homecoming week and the change from Homecoming Queen and King to Homecoming Royalty by posting to more platforms and possibly sharing more information specifically with the freshmen. Normally, Homecoming week is evident because tons of events are going on but that couldn't happen this year, so I feel like they missed out on learning the traditions of our school.”

— Homecoming Court candidate

A cutting-edge change to the campaign-based selection of Homecoming Court candidates, Virginia Tech debuted its gender-neutral Homecoming Court this year. To encourage platform-based voting and inclusivity, rather than crowning one female and one male, three candidates were crowned as Homecoming Royalty. The transition from Homecoming King and Queen to Homecoming Royalty exemplifies Virginia Tech’s commitment to Ut Prosim and its Principles of Community.

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As the pandemic continues to affect our world and communities are working to create a new norm in these uncertain times, Virginia Tech needs to find better ways to connect with the student population and keep Virginia Tech traditions alive.

“I certainly wish Homecoming was more known throughout the week. I am hopeful that in the years to come, it becomes more widespread throughout campus.”

— Homecoming Royalty Andrew McCaffrey

“While it was a lot of work with all of the changes due to COVID-19, it was absolutely still worth it. Having the opportunity to advocate for a platform in the midst of a pandemic was very humbling.”

— Homecoming Court candidate

Although Homecoming looked much different in the midst of the pandemic, I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to raise awareness for my platform. I know I will always look back fondly on my time at Virginia Tech - proud of the organizations I was involved in and the people I surrounded myself with.

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