Every trip I take now begins and ends on an airplane, and every time, I marvel at how man strapped wings on a tin can and pushed it into the air, asking it to fly. The Wright Brothers lept into the air on their canvas wings and an immense level of faith, and it stuns me how much we’ve deepened that faith in a flying aluminum tube to this day.
In many ways, returning to Georgia Tech for homecoming is a version of that same faith (please bear with me on this metaphor). Regardless of where you now live as an alumnus/alumnae, returning to our humble campus in Midtown Atlanta is a pilgrimage and a recurring payout on an investment of faith pledged long ago. 1969, 1994, 2019 — it does not matter when you graduated (or “got out”); you lived here, you worked here, you cried here, you never slept here, you celebrated here, you bonded here, and you earned every bit of what you are now with your work here.
However, it seems a bit fallacious to comment broadly on the alumni experience, given that I am but six short months into my own. Like many of you, I returned to campus this past weekend to take in homecoming for the first time as an alumnus...which comes with the caveat that I tried to act like a current student the entire time.
...but that‘s really the point of the entire weekend, right? Is there really a more fruitful way to take in your first (or tenth, or 25th) payout of your previous investment than to spend it with all of the people that made it with you, regardless of if that was for ten minutes or four hours?
Let’s pivot slightly and extend my avian metaphor: every airplane ride has its rough air. There is no perfect journey — at some point, you’re bound to rattle around in your tin can and get a little air-sick.
There’s a few different directions we can branch off of that, but let’s focus on that journey for a moment. Here’s the short of it: that investment you made long ago (not so long for some of us!) is uniquely shaped by your rough air. You may have heard others speak of the challenges you faced on campus, but no one experienced them like you did. They shaped and molded your time at Tech.
I walked around campus this week for the first time in four months and through these places where I once spent so much time making my investment. In some ways, I wanted to relive my rough air, looking up at the very buildings that shaped it and enveloped it. It was jarring to see these places again — while everything looks the same, it’s just slightly different. Campus and campus life evolves even during seemingly the most minute of absences. A Tech Green turfgrass that I often maligned for its poor drainage and recovery shimmered in a glorious shade of green. The Beringause Police Station is now gone, razed in preparation for the construction of a new West Campus park. The parking lot adjacent to the Instructional Center is now a massive construction site for the first phase of the new Campus Center, the frame of which now stands almost as tall as (if not taller than) the IC itself. The banner, balloons, and fog guns that once preceded the Reck’s entrance onto Historic Grant Field have been superseded by a dance club inside the home tunnel and a revamped order of entry onto the field (Reck, cheer flags, THEN team).
But as the old cliche goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Singing the national anthem and alma mater on a Saturday afternoon (it was usually late morning back in my day grumbles), hanging out at Cypress Pint and Plate (note: not a sponsor yet, unfortunately) for hours and hours, watching contraptions crawl (in some cases, literally) down Fowler Street on homecoming morning, and seeing tricycles collapse in various fashions around Peters Parking Deck on a crisp fall afternoon: these things never get old — they will never get old.
Georgia Tech has an incredibly rich set of traditions painted across a vast tapestry threaded by the experiences of every single Tech man and woman to walk under Tech Tower’s white-and-golden block lettering. I hope you got to experience them all this weekend, whether it was for the first or the fiftieth time.
For even if it was just for a weekend, it was great to be home.