The festivities of Homecoming week began Monday with the traditional Student Activities Committee homecoming apparel sale. Students flocked to Buntrock to buy the "Wonderland" themed t-shirts and sweatpants, making this year a more popular year for apparel than other years.
"A lot of people came up and told me they had never bought our gear before. That's how you know it's a success. People who don't usually get involved do," said Student Activities Coordinator Keshia Hohenstein '08. The money earned by t-shirt and sweatpant sales will eventually go toward the President's Ball held annually in the spring.
Overall, Hohenstein was pleased with student responses to this year's theme. "It was a little more geared toward the female audience than I was hoping, but I had a lot of positive responses," she said.
Last spring, numerous themes were suggested, including "pirates." "I just kind of vetoed that because I knew that we could be more creative," Hohenstein said. When "Through the Looking Glass" was put on the table, SAC voted overwhelmingly in favor of it.
The week itself featured a variety of events, including a hypnotist, poker night and a dance. "The poker tournament still tied into the theme because of the Queen of Hearts in 'Alice in Wonderland,'" Hohenstein said.
The dance also tied into the theme with its title, "The Un-birthday." "The dance was hands-down the best event; we had a line going out the Pause. It was cool to see people so eager," Hohenstein said.
Events not only attracted St. Olaf students but outsiders as well, particularly for Family Weekend. By Friday afternoon, campus was flooded with family, alumni and visiting friends. The cafeteria was ready for the earliest guests Friday night, serving salmon in the home line.
To continue the "Oles in Wonderland" theme, Buntrock Commons and Stav Hall were decorated with cardboard cut-outs of "Alice in Wonderland" characters. One student took such a liking to a giant bunny mural that they attached the colossal painting to the front of a car and drove through the streets of Northfield to honor the school.
Other students expressed their fervor in equally individual manners. As dusk fell Friday, several students were spotted in black face paint and camouflage.
"To celebrate homecoming, we are reenacting an adaptation of the story 'Alice In Wonderland' in military-guerilla dress. The outfits really pick up on some of the underlying themes in the story and reflect issues we face on campus, which makes the live action role play extremely meaningful," said one participating senior who wished to remain unnamed.
Despite the rain on Saturday, spirits ran high in Buntrock as Homecoming weekend reached its peak in activity. The Harvest festival, a celebration that took place in Buntrock from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, included vendors, activities, lectures and lunch. A large number of alumni attended; many were young alumni, carrying toddlers and Olaf paraphernalia.
Initially, the Harvest Festival was planned as an outdoor event, but was moved inside due to the weather. The cafeteria was swamped with people partaking in the Harvestfest meal; the line running all the way to second floor.
The St. Olaf Norwegian tradition ran strong throughout the vendor's booths and activities of Harvestfest. Norwegian contradancing took place with live music in the Buntrock foyer, participants ranged in age from 18 months to 72 years.
Vendors in the Arts & Crafts Market lined the hallways and sold things like uniquely carved Norwegian-style woodwork, jewelry, perfume and handcrafted apparel.
Also included was the 1997 panel presentation, "Beyond The Hill," which provided a discourse between members of the St. Olaf class of 1997 with regard to their lives in the ten years since leaving St. Olaf.
A common feature of this group of alumni was that very few of them were doing what they had set out to do upon St. Olaf graduation. A sports psychology major is now a senior buyer for the bedding department at Target. An English major works in the Twin Cities as a detective. The majority of those who spoke expressed surprise at their first ten years after Olaf had brought.
One of the panelists, Tim Anderson, director for teaching and learning for the Bloomington Public School system, maintained that considering your post-collegiate career is hardly the most important part of liberal arts education. "Your straight-out, most important job here is to find your identity. It's the basis for all that you'll do in the future. You don't have to know while you're here where it's all going," he said.
Other panelists chimed in. "Because it's probably not going to go there anyway," said fellow panelist Jill Courtney Cares, who runs a music recording studio in New York City.
Anderson continued, "Take what you like and match your strengths to the needs of the world." Cares also added, "Pursue your interests, don't feel all that academic pressure. I've never had an employer ask me what my grade point average was in college."
Dean Kneser mentioned the degree of transformation he has seen in students in the years following graduation. "Amazing that those we thought were like criminals turned out to be really, really [successful]," he said with a smile.
The entire panel and those who participated in the discussion agreed that students should enjoy St. Olaf while they attend college. Finding such a community and so many resources is rare. In fact, many of those on the panel seemed nostalgic for their experience here, and they were eager to ensure that students would take full advantage of the opportunities offered at St. Olaf. Perhaps for that reason so many families and alumni traveled here to spend just a weekend on campus.