The very first Cal Poly homecoming football game occurred in November 1924. The tradition has lasted ever since. | File photo/Mustang News

Naba Ahmed and Tim Wetzel

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The annual tradition of Cal Poly’s homecoming dates back more than 100 years, beginning with its first official event in June 1907: an initiation ceremony for new alumni.

Homecoming’s purpose was to unite alumni — and it did its job.

By 1949, homecoming had become an integral part of Cal Poly, attracting more than 500 alumni that year alone. During a homecoming banquet in 1935, the Cal Poly Alumni Association (CPAA) was officially created after several alumni groups across California merged into one. Since then, the association has played a significant role in promoting homecoming events.

According to Ellen Cohune, assistant vice president of CPAA, homecoming is more than just a time for alumni to visit.

Homecoming enables our alumni to come back to their alma mater and be reminded about what makes them Cal Poly proud,” Cohune said. “When you come back and you’ve been away for a while, you have that sense of home and you’re reminded how this institution prepared you for your career and was instrumental in your development as a person.”

For the first time, the CPAA has put together an Alumni Welcome Home reception downtown to allow alumni to relive their memories, such as Farmers’ Market.

Additionally, Cal Poly hosts the Honored Alumni Celebration Awards Dinner. This year, the alumni dinner will be held Oct. 31 at 5:30 p.m. Established more than 30 years ago, the dinner recognizes an outstanding alumnus from each college. For the 2014 Alumni Awards, there are six recipients: Peter Oppenheimer, Ted Hyman, Carson Chen, Michael Bickel, Kelli Seybolt and Michael Abbott.

Honorees are nominated by their respective colleges or by the alumni association, Cohune said.

“Any alumnus is eligible for nomination, so there’s an alumni pool of about 165,000,” she said. “Each nominee is reviewed by the nomination committee, then voted on and approved by the executive board.”

The final nominations are sent to Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong for approval.

“When picking honorees for each college, we look for alumni who have outstanding recognition in their area,” Armstrong said. “We pick people who have furthered Cal Poly by what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished.”

The event also recognizes the recipient of the CPAA Distinguished Service Award, which goes to an alumnus who has demonstrated exceptional service to Cal Poly. This year’s award was presented to Bassel Anber, who graduated with a B.S. in construction management.

“We chose Bassel Anber for a lot of different reasons, but specifically for the work he’s done at the alumni chapters in San Francisco and San Jose,” CPAA alumni outreach specialist Sarah Thien said.

Other awards include the Sandra Gardebring Ogren Leadership Award, which honors an alumnus who distinguishes him- or herself to Cal Poly as a leader and has made a significant contribution to Cal Poly by embracing or being actively engaged in the support of the uniqueness of a comprehensive polytechnic education, Thien said.

Jon Monett was this year’s recipient, who graduated with a B.S. in industrial engineering.

“Jon Monett was specifically chosen for his work in service and specifically for the QL+ laboratory he founded on campus,” Thien said.

Alumni also have the chance to visit the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) Showcase: Homecoming for the Mind, which was established in 2011, in which 10 CLA students will present their senior projects.

According to Penny Bennett, associate dean of the CLA, the showcase is created as a way to engage alumni in a different way.

“Before this, we didn’t really have a way to show alumni some of the great things our students are doing,” Bennett said.

Though homecoming tradition lies in attending the football game, this was not tied to homecoming until November 1924. This year, alumni will have the chance to sit in the alumni section as they watch the Cal Poly Mustangs face off against the Montana State Bobcats.

According to Thien, there will be a new addition to the 2014 Homecoming event at Cal Poly. An alumni food bank will be located in the Alumni House where alumni, students and parents have the chance to give back to their community.

Personally, as a graduate of Cal Poly, it makes me happy to see fellow alumni come back to campus and have fun celebrating that Cal Poly pride,” Thien said. “They went to this awesome institution and are doing well in their lives and want to give back to the future, whether it’s traditions on campus or supporting athletics or student organizations.”

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