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Northwest continues Homecoming tradition in light of COVID-19 mitigations

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Flag Raising

At 8 a.m. activities kicked off with the Bell of ‘48 Ringing, which served as the signal for the Walkout Day and Homecoming activities to begin.

Despite COVID-19, Walkout Day still took place on Oct. 9 with the usual activities bringing students together. 

Even though the same activities were happening, they all looked a little different this year in the midst of COVID-19 and required unique preparation.

Throughout the late morning and afternoon, outside of the J.W. Jones Student Union and The Station, the Student Activities Council handed out free items, such as shirts, lanyards and buttons.

For the Student Activities Council, there wasn’t much difference this year compared to past years. 

“We’re still offering the same experiences,” Kyle Harris, president of the Student Activities Council, said. “The only challenge has just been putting it together, with communication and coordination.” 

At 1 p.m. was the start of the International Flag-Raising Ceremony. Erika Lees, assistant director of International Affairs, said there are 39 different countries represented by Northwest students, including India, Nepal, Nigeria, Brazil and South Africa. 

Lees also said a lot of students could not return home in March due to a travel ban, so some haven’t seen their families since last year’s Christmas break. Lees said she believed support for the students this year was even more important.

Vitaly Isytsyk, junior from Ukraine, said he appreciates the University’s commitment to celebrating diversity.

“I think it’s great. I feel welcome being able to celebrate ourselves, and it’s great the University wants everyone to feel welcome,” Isytsyk said.

Tessa Kwakernaak, freshman from The Netherlands, also appreciates the University’s efforts.

“I feel very at home, and it’s very nice the flags are here, even though my flag is upside down,” Kwakernaak laughingly said.

Martina Pascuzzo, sophomore from Argentina, spoke at the event.

Pascuzzo said that she chose Northwest because she wanted to experience the American culture, and said she felt like we truly received that away from coastal states. 

“It’s usually challenging being away from home, so it’s good having a place that embraces us,” Pascuzzo said. 

She said when she found out about the flag-raising ceremony her first thought was “Wow, they really care.”

Like all events throughout the Friday of Homecoming, the International Flag-Raising Ceremony saw a few changes for COVID-19 mitigation.

Greg Haddock, associate provost, said they knew they would have to find ways to keep students socially distant.

“There’s usually 200 people here, and we’ve even packed the auditorium when we couldn’t do it outside,” Haddock said. 

Haddock also said that the golden class would usually be in attendance, which would be the the class of 1970, however they were not able to this year.

“That’s definitely different, and I am a little bit saddened by that,” Haddock said.

Phil Hull, director of the International Involvement Center, also pointed out a couple differences in this year’s ceremony. 

“We had to use remote mics instead of the handheld ones,” Hull said. “And we would usually have international alum here, but unfortunately couldn’t this year.”

Hull said that thanks to the planning committees “behind-the-scenes efforts,” it didn’t look a whole lot different than usual.

While there were changes, Haddock and Hull felt that the ceremony remains important for the University.

“This is unique, very unique, and it’s a good goal for people to be a part of recognizing what it means to be a community,” Haddock said. “And I know everyday if they have a flag, I know they look up at it.”

“It is good for students to realize they are indeed living in a global community,” Hull said.

Soon after the International Flag-Raising Ceremony came to a close, the focus turned to the parade.

Even though the parade would usually be on a Saturday, that did not stop people from getting involved. 

Maia Moss, Royalty and Variety Show executive chair of the Homecoming committee, said there were over 30 organizations represented in the parade.

However, for a few organizations, there were still challenges in preparing for the festivities. 

James Palmer, senior and Homecoming king candidate, said that usually the fraternities pair up with the sororities and do floats, but they couldn’t this year.

Katy Strickland, director of the Bearcat Marching Band, talked about the differences for the band and its part in the Walkout Day activities.

Strickland mentioned how everyone has to wear masks, and that when they play they have to use a special mask that has hole just big enough for the mouthpiece of the instrument to fit through. Strickland also said the band had to split into two smaller groups, BMB pride and BMB spirit.

“We usually play the fight song (during the parade), but we couldn’t this year,” Strickland said. “I don’t know when they ever don’t play the fight song. But they have to wear the normal mask, and if they have to switch masks while walking, it’s not a good situation.”

The band was also spread out more than usual, with 7 feet between everyone.

Bearcat Cheer, which followed directly behind the BMB in the parade, saw differences not only in preparation, but what they were allowed to do. 

“Normally we stunt, but we can’t,” Henry Leyva, senior and interim cheer coach, said. 

Leyva said with the new guidelines they mainly just focus on the motions, but that doing stunts is “what they do” and not being able to is one of the biggest challenges they faced.

There was still a lot of student and community support at the parade, but there was a noticeable difference in the numbers at attendance. 

“Last year, the whole street was lined up with people,” sophomore Aaron Simpson said.

The parade ended at Mabel Cook Recruitment and Visitors Center, which then began the final event — the Homecoming showcase. 

Despite COVID-19, more than 200 people attended the showcase, which featured performances by the Bearcat Steppers, Bearcat Cheer, the Bearcat Color Guard and the Bearcat Marching Band.

Becky Kats, sophomore and captain of the Bearcat Steppers, said they had their own troubles when preparing for the performance.

“We had to practice on Zoom sometimes, which is difficult,” Kats said.

Kats said that the team was “super resilient” and that there was a lot of trust involved in making sure the performance went well.

For the end of the Homecoming Showcase and Walkout Day festivities, the Homecoming royalty was crowned, with Kirayle Jones winning king, and Carmen Miller winning queen. 

While COVID-19 might appear to have a negative effect on events, there is one aspect of Walkout Day that COVID-19 did not diminish.

“The morale was still equal, and everyone was still enjoying themselves,” Palmer said.

“The Bearcat Pride was even stronger this year, and we were able to gather together and overcome everything happening,” Kats said. “It’s uniting to be in a strong community.”

Northwest President John Jasinski said Homecoming is always uplifting, pandemic or not. 

“We scaled down and scaled back some things but it is still the same spirit. There was no question of seeing Bearcat pride and I think we saw it even more so this year,” Jasinski said.

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