It’s Saturday, April 12, 2014, and I’m back at Cal Poly.
It’s like I never left.
On my way to the Open House opening ceremonies, I run into my friend and fellow alumnus James Van Lommel, in town from Southern California to rehearse for an upcoming local ballet production. Then I see more friends on Dexter Lawn, their children dancing as the Mustang Band begins to play. It’s The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get”—their big hit from 1997, my freshman year.
After another tune or two, they roll into Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy) from 1998.
My late-’90s friends are here, the music fits that bygone era, and I’m suddenly thinking about classmates and professors I haven’t seen since before the millennium switch. Yep, it’s like I never left.
My wife and three young children have come with me, and the kids are certainly enjoying the music, but none of them is as excited as I am—as evidenced by my shouting of the school fight song when it plays. After President Jeffrey Armstrong gives his opening address, we all head over to the Alumni Booth, where my former journalism colleague and current alumni outreach specialist Sarah Thien is taking Polaroid pictures of grads from 2013 back to the ’50s. Her crew is making the photos into magnets to display on a board throughout the day.
From there, we start walking. There’s too much to see. Every college-affiliated group that can show off seems to be doing so. Last year we saw a dressage demonstration at a horse arena I didn’t even know existed when I was a student. In the years before that, I watched student-built robot “mice” make their way through mazes; admired art, design, photography, and architecture projects on display; and kicked around the Mustang Daily (now Mustang News) room in a sort-of “Hey, I used to work here” sort of way that I hoped would spark a conversation with today’s journalism students but probably came across as sad at best and creepy at worst.
The place is packed this year, and I see friends from school, the community, church, and beyond. Photographer Brittany App flashes me a quick smile as she walks past. Cuestonian adviser Kim Bisheff and I talk shop while my girls get their faces painted. Gordon Claassen, livestock manager for Swanton Pacific Ranch—a Cal Poly “living and learning laboratory” in Davenport—teaches my 6-year-old how to lasso.
There are baby chicks (chicken and quail) to hold, flower arrangements to admire, quilts to bid on, and food to eat. Lots of food to eat. I’m on a specific diet at the moment, so a lot of my favorites (hot potstickers!) are off the menu, but I can still get chicken tikka masala from the Cal Poly Indian Student Association.
Campus clubs, teams, Greek houses, and other organizations put up booths that sell this food from around the world, and they give away free stuff, too. The Cal Poly Pride Center has a rainbow of little felt-clad wooden gnomes on display for anyone to decorate with puff paints. The neighboring Gender Equity Center booth has a “fishing” game that delivers Marvel Avengers-themed candy to participants. Across the way, at the Safer booth—promoting the resource that combats sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking on campus, in the community, and beyond—I snag a button that reads #VeryClearLines. Take that, Robin Thicke! I’ve already got one of this group’s T-shirts, which reads, “I (heart) Consensual Sex.” It was a post-Open House present from my wife a few years back, and it’s a great conversation starter to help people think about rape culture and what they can do to fight it.
R2-D2 cruises by, chirping and whirring amid the smoke from the dozen or so barbecues. Aspiring pharmacists hand out candy in prescription pill bottles (“Not a great idea,” I tell them), Cal Poly math lovers challenge passersby to solve a number-based riddle (I succeed; the answer is “98,” but I can’t tell them how I got there), and Bronies (Cal Poly students devoted to the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) explain their fandom. One of them draws faithfully rendered characters as presents for my daughters. My kids participate in a taste test presented by food science students hoping to win a Disney-sponsored contest with their round oat treats called “Nem-o’s.”
Everyone is welcoming, cheerful, kind. I know Open House is sort of a show for incoming and prospective students, but I find it to be more of a homecoming than even Homecoming. I’m happy, even if we don’t even make it to the tractor pull or rodeo. Or Design Village. Or to new Rec Center Tour. Or … .
Executive Editor Ryan Miller knows all the words to the fight song. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.