A Toast to HBCU Homecoming, the Epicenter of Black Success
Illustration: Michael Kennedy

A Toast to HBCU Homecoming, the Epicenter of Black Success

Being reunited with fellow alumni feels so good—especially now that my career has finally caught up to my ambition

For some, the arrival of autumn means apple picking, pumpkin-spice everything, and layering up your fits. Those seasonal staples don’t appeal to me—I’m not a white woman from Connecticut. However, fall is a special time for one reason and one reason alone: homecoming season! And when you’re an HBCU alum like me, the weeks between October and November are some of the most wonderful of the year.

This month, I’ll be making my first return to homecoming since before the pandemic. While my extended hiatus is reason enough to get excited, I’m even more hyped that this is the first trip I’ll be taking to my alma mater where I’ll feel like I’m truly him. Which is to say, I’ve landed the cushy management role I once coveted and have my eyes set on reaching even higher rungs of the corporate ladder. The career my student debt has helped secure is looking more fruitful than ever.

Let’s start with the fact that my travel is fully expensable. As a panelist at a marketing conference taking place in the same city as my school’s homecoming, I’ll be representing my company, which is footing the bill. I’ll also pop into one of my former professor’s classes to impart some of my career learnings onto students seated at renovated versions of the same desks where I once studied. Yep, your boy has officially been promoted from alumni to SPECIAL GUEST alumni, and I shall only be addressed as such!

The overall experience will hit different this time around. When I was a student, homecoming, as fun as it was, always made me feel broke. For some reason, my eyes gravitated toward the flashier displays of success—people pulling up in Beamer, Benz, or Bentley, and stepping out dressed head-to-toe in the dopest drip of the era. In my first few homecomings after I graduated, I attempted to do the same. My credit cards would do the electric slide to cop fresh outfits, VIP tickets for celebrity-endorsed parties, and the flyest rental whips my budget would allow. I could always Jedi mind trick myself into justifying the spends—I wasn’t pulling in that kind of bread at the time, but I figured I was well on my way. Even if I wasn’t making six figures, I still had to look the part.

I’m too grown to blame this behavior on the culture. Truth be told, everyone—regardless of race—dreams of reuniting with classmates and flexing just a little bit. So many of us were once cash-strapped college students, so of course there’s an urge to display the fruits of that struggle. We all want to look like we’re doing well for ourselves, but over the years, I’ve realized showing success is not as important as feeling successful. Ironically, the year I return to homecoming making more money than I ever foresaw for myself, my plans are more humble than back when I lived check-to-check.

For so many years, I’d venture out to homecoming with the same energy as if I were attending NBA All-Star Weekend. Now my M.O. is giving daps and hugs and toasts more than turning up.

I’ve finally realized homecoming isn’t about stunting for the guests; it’s about stunting for the set. Designer fits will stay in the closet in favor of alumni merch. I’m home, and the house clothes I’m rocking will let you know it. Instead of renting some luxury vehicle from Turo, Uber will be my means of transit; I’d rather be driven from point A to point B in some 4.5-star driver’s Honda Civic than waste time (and money) parking while I should be partying.

Speaking of partying, my friends and I are foregoing the big clubs in favor of a bar crawl with members of our class. I still love the occasional bottle service and sparklers, but a lot of my friends have families now. Even if they leave the kids at home, they don’t have the same knees or stamina they once possessed. Instead of staying at some fancy downtown hotel, I’ll be crashing with one of my closest college homies. That’s less about saving money and more about prioritizing what’s really important about homecoming: spending time with friends and the families they’ve started.

For so many years, I’d venture out to homecoming with the same energy as if I were attending NBA All-Star Weekend. I wanted to flex and flaunt—even if it was a front. Now my M.O. is simply showing love to the folks I usually only see on my IG timeline. I’ll be there to give daps and hugs and toast more than turn up.

I won’t share my alma mater here—Microsoft Word has the only dox I need in my life—but it’s certainly not for lack of pride. While no other school’s festivities can hold a candle to ours (respectfully!), I’m sure the scenes and interactions are similar on all HBCU campuses. I can see it now: Someone is going to say they’re trying to be like me, I’m going to tell someone I’m trying to be like them, and we’re all going to be happy we are us—a group of successful, healthy, beautiful Black people who’ve endured a pandemic, a recession, and crazy times in general. We’ll be far from corporate Karens and meetings about meetings and the constant need for code-switching. Homecoming means we’ll be back home, right where we belong. See you at the tailgate!

Don’t Be the Last Person to Know Layoffs Are Coming
Forget “quiet quitting,” you really need to watch out for these telltale signs that heads are about to roll