Inside Mizzou Podcast:
Homecoming, Ep. 6
Now in its 107th year, Homecoming is a comprehensive tradition that embraces so many aspects of the Tiger spirit. From the parade to the blood drive, the football game to decorating the windows around downtown, this event celebrates what makes Mizzou special and what unites our community. But with so many things going on and people involved, what does it actually take to make a Mizzou Homecoming happen?
Joining Chancellor Cartwright this week are two members of this year’s Homecoming Steering Committee: Nnamdi Okoli, a senior on the parade committee studying accounting; and Tri-Director Jenna Cederblad, a senior studying health science. They discuss what it takes to plan, organize and execute one of Mizzou’s most historic traditions.
Moderator: [00:00:10] From the classroom to the cornfield, journalism to SEC athletics, the University of Missouri works 52 weeks a year, every year. This is Inside Mizzou — real stories, real discoveries and real impact of the Mizzou community. Today’s episode is called “Homecoming.” This Saturday is Mizzou’s 107th Homecoming. Since 1911, this longstanding tradition has celebrated Mizzou’s community, spirit and campus culture. Whether you go to the parade, participate in the blood drive, or decorate the windows around downtown, Homecoming recognizes the Tiger Pride that unites us all. But beyond celebrating this great tradition, making Homecoming happen year after year is a really big undertaking. Joining Chancellor Cartwright today to talk about what goes into creating, planning and executing this storied tradition are two members of this year’s Homecoming Steering Committee: Nnamdi Okoli and Tri-Director Jenna Cederblad. Thank you all for being here today.
Jenna Cederblad: [00:01:16] Thanks for having us.
Moderator: [00:01:18] Chancellor Cartwwright, I want to start with you on this. What makes Homecoming such a special experience at Mizzou?
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:01:24] Well, you know, I’ve only been here for one Homecoming so far, and it was quite an experience. It’s all the things you said to start off with — having a parade, the fact that it’s a day-long, week-long, month-long tradition. And it truly is the place where we started homecoming, and we continue to celebrate it in so many ways. What always impressed me last year was the amount of commitment to all of the activities, but more importantly, to activities that had a meaningful impact on people’s lives — the blood drive being one of the main ones that I would highlight. So, this is a great place where we celebrate being a community, being together, and Homecoming is a special event at Mizzou.
Moderator: [00:02:12] Nnamdi and Jenna, so you are a part of the creation of this Homecoming celebration. I know that you have tirelessly worked for a very long amount of time to create this Homecoming celebration for all these students. So, I just want to get your opinion on how this has shaped your student experience of how you’re creating and planning and executing Homecoming this year.
Jenna Cederblad: [00:02:37] Yeah, we could sit here and talk for hours and hours and hours because Homecoming is not just one day or one weekend here. It’s a year-long process for our Steering Committee. And so, my time as a Tiger — so from the middle of my sophomore year to pretty much the end of my senior year, it’s all been about Homecoming, all been about planning our most honored tradition. And through that, we get to work with incredible leaders from all across campus. Every single part of campus is represented, and then not only that honor of Steering Committee, but also all parts of campus. And I think that’s been really transformative, and me being able to step outside my own circle and kind of get to see Tigers from all over.
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:03:18] For me, Homecoming has been, it’s been an interesting journey. I’m originally from Madison, Wisconsin, so I’m from a place where homecoming is just a day. It’s a football game, and that’s all we do. And so, being at Mizzou my freshman year I didn’t participate. And every year since then I’ve tried to sort of increase my involvement in Homecoming and then take it to the the ultimate level and join the Steering Committee. And so, it’s been an incredible experience to observe and watch and sort of see the evolution of Homecoming and then to be a part of it. It’s a planet with an incredibly talented group of leaders. It’s been fun to this point and incredibly rewarding for me.
Moderator: [00:03:57] Yeah. And with both of you — so this year the theme is “Game On, Tiger Strong.” So, could you, both of you, talk about how you came up with this idea, how you came up with the theme, and kind of what you’re doing to make sure that theme is a really prevalent throughout Homecoming.
Jenna Cederblad: [00:04:17] So, we task our Steering Committee with kind of coming up with a theme. So, I’ll let Nnamdi talk more on that. But as far as what “Game On, Tiger Strong” represents, we tried to really make sure that people really knew that, you know, campus feels so like vibrate right now. When you walk on campus, you see that athletics are doing well, you see that enrollment is up, and you can really just feel the pride walking around campus. And so, “Game On, Tiger Strong” is more than just a game. It’s more than just the Tiger spirit. It’s about like every single aspect of campus athletics, academics, and then that all ties back to being a part of the Mizzou Alumni Association. We’re so proud to represent them, and their mission is making Mizzou stronger. So, it all goes hand-in-hand. But yeah, Nnamdi can talk more about how we dumped that on them. (Laughing)
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:05:09] I’m so glad we got to that. It was a long process for us. But no, so when we — during our paper application process to be a part of Homecoming Steering Committee, we were tasked to suggest three different Homecoming theme ideas. And so, that’s sort of like throwing pasta at the wall. You see what sticks.
Moderator: [00:05:33] I love that! That’s great.
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:05:33] I mean, there were a lot, you know, I think of my original ideas — there are a couple that looking back I was like, “I’m glad we didn’t go with that one.”
Everyone: [00:05:41] (Laughter)
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:05:41] You know, for us as a Steering Committee, part of our responsibility even before we got on the Committee is to sort of go through and really think through what would be a good theme that sort of encapsulates what the campus feeling is, what the campus sentiment is, and then once we were on and selected for Homecoming Steering Committee, our main goal and our main mission was sort of to whittle it down and pick something. We’ll work with our Tri-Directors and our adviser to pick something that we felt was going to be sort of authentic and genuine to capture what we were trying to go for as a Homecoming theme.
Moderator: [00:06:13] Yeah, and to go off of kind of what you were saying — so I know that you’re a part of the Steering Committee. So, you have specific roles or specific jobs within that. And yours is that you are on the parade committee this year, which, I mean, I’m not going to pick favorites, but the parade is the best in the world. And the parade is definitely a big part of Homecoming because it brings in all of the community — the surrounding Columbia community — and the students together into this great big event. So, what does the planning and the organizing of this event look like?
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:06:48] A lot of fun! I’ll say that. Am I allowed to say that’s fun, I’m having fun? No, it’s a lot of fun. For us as a Steering Committee and then the Tri-Director that I work with, Grace, it falls heavily on communication. We’re incredibly fortunate to rely sort of on all the past experiences of our previous Steering Committees, and they’ve done a fantastic job. And so, for us we sort of just get to carry the torch instead of reinventing the wheel when it comes to planning Homecoming. So, we work a lot with our campus partners, student organizations, MUPD, parking and transportation — pretty much everyone to make the parade route as effective as possible. But then it also works with, or we also work really heavily with our Columbia community partners. And so, you know, our friends and partners over at Columbia PD are incredibly helpful and always resourceful, always suggesting ideas and are willing to let us try different things. And then for us, it’s really just about piecing together, you know, and trying to recruit as many student organizations as we can, as many campus and Columbia participants as we can to make sure that we’re putting together an incredibly reflective parade.
Moderator: [00:08:01] Chancellor Cartwright, I know that since we’re talking about the parade and last year was your first experience being in the parade, what were your feelings about it? Did you have a really good time or…?
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:08:13] You know, it was interesting. I’m not one to really enjoy bringing so much attention to myself. But certainly when you’re sitting on a convertible and people are looking at you, there’s a lot of attention. But it was a great experience to see so many people out. Last year, you know, it was an early great start. A 7:00 a.m. start.
Moderator: [00:08:42] I just remember waking up at 6:00 just to get ready.
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:08:45] It was very early.
Jenna Cederblad: [00:08:45] Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen this year. (Laughing)
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:08:48] So, it was an early one. But it was great to see so many people out on the parade route, and it was a lot of fun. You know, we were able to go around and see people throughout the entire route, and that was a surprise to me to see how many people come out, how many people care about this institution, care about what we’re doing. And so, it was totally enjoyable to see everybody and to see the people who spent so much time — like Nnamdi and Jenna — on working on getting things just perfect. And to see the outcome and that everything went flawlessly, and it was so well organized. I give a lot of credit to all of the people last year. And you know, I know the group this year has done equally as much work, so it’s been a great year.
Moderator: [00:09:36] So, another thing that I want to talk to both of you about, Jenna and Nnamdi, are your past experiences, your past leadership roles. I know that both of you are very involved heavily in other things. So, how did those experiences help you kind of work or navigate through Homecoming or this Homecoming Steering Committee and working with the team. So, and also your majors, too, because your students as well. You do learn, and you do extracurriculars. So yeah, just go more in depth about that kind of experience.
Jenna Cederblad: [00:10:11] We always like to joke that our major is Homecoming. (Laughing) But I am a part of Greek life, and that was a huge influence in my decision to get involved on campus. If it weren’t for the leaders that came before me inside my chapter, I would have had no idea what a Homecoming was or any other organization. So, I really tried to get involved my freshman and sophomore year. And that included, you know, Steering Committees, It’s On Us. And just really trying to find my way through campus and make campus a little bit smaller and also find what I was passionate about. So, I did get to serve on another student committee, Caring for Columbia, and that was all about service. So, when I found — like that kind of led me to Homecoming, and I loved that like the service aspect of Homecoming was so big because I was able to use my past experiences from my chapter and from the Steering Committee and It’s On Us to give my time to something even bigger. And I loved that the impact was not just Mizzou. It wasn’t just Missouri. It’s like Mid-Missouri, it’s, you know, alumni throughout the country, and so I really liked the big grand scale of things. And definitely working in those leadership positions gave me the confidence to be able to take 37 leaders and say, “You know what, I’ve got a place for all of you. I’m going to try my best to instruct you to the best of my ability.” And that, yeah, I would just say like the confidence boost from different organizations.
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:11:38] Well, I think this has been, for me, this is perfect timing to do this as a senior. It took a little bit of a ways for me to sort of grow. Patience, I’d say, is probably the biggest thing you have to work with. Homecoming is so special not because of necessarily anything we do, but it means so many different things to so many different people. And when we put on, you know, whether it’s the parade or campus decorations or talent event, different people will pull different things, and that’s the incredibly exciting part about Homecoming. But it’s also the biggest challenge for us. And so for me, through my past experiences, I’ve been a Resident Advisor for three years. I was a part of our Residence Halls Association. And so, all of those things sort of helped me build and understand: 1) Communication — it’s a contact sport. Everyone does it differently, and you have to be really willing to get out and understand what it is people want and what it is they need from you. And then also patience, when you’re trying to figure out how is it that we’re going to provide an event that people can really enjoy, and that different people will get different experiences from it. And so for me, my previous experiences have really been about preparing me to be comfortable with some of the ambiguity that happens and dealing with different types of people. But also patience, and just being comfortable with the fact that different people are going to see different things from the events that we put on.
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:12:58] And I think it’s interesting you should mention ambiguity. I talk a lot about ambiguity in leadership roles. That’s one of the things you have to learn is being comfortable with ambiguity. Because you certainly don’t, you never know everything that’s going to happen. You know, it’s fascinating to me to listen and to see the types of leadership experience that both of you have received through this process, and I think it’s going to help you tremendously as you move forward in your careers. We talk about this at Mizzou. We talk about the Missouri Method. We talk about being involved, and this is another example of how students at Mizzou become involved. Because at Mizzou, what is different about Homecoming than at many other places is that it’s the students that make it happen. And everything is organized — and organized exceptionally well — by a group of incredibly talented people. And so, it’s interesting to see how much growth they have during that process and their leadership ability.
Moderator: [00:13:53] To go off of that, Jenna you’re a Tri Director, and that is a high honor. I know. I was a part of Homecoming, and I was a part of royalty, and that you were just like on us the whole entire time. They had everything kind of on it — in a good way. (Laughing) They were very responsible, very proactive. They were incredible. So, how is it being a Tri-Director now? I know that you in the past have been a part of the public relations committee. So, yeah, how has that happened — how has that transition been?
Jenna Cederblad: [00:14:24] Last year my job was to follow Chancellor Cartwright around with my camera.
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:14:29] Exactly!
Jenna Cederblad: [00:14:29] I felt bad I was like taking pictures of him donating blood.
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:14:32] That’s right! (Laughing)
Jenna Cederblad: [00:14:33] So, going from my role last year. I was a part of the public relations committee like you said, and we were at every event. We are taking photos and videos. But transitioning into the role of Tri-Director was a huge leap for me. Sometimes I feel like I still have to like pinch myself because I feel like it’s not real or I’m like, “Oh my gosh, there’s, you know, two days until Homecoming. How did we get here? This past year has been a dream.” But, honestly, I would not have had this experience at any other university, and I am thankful everyday for my decision to come to Mizzou. Because I honestly feel like the past, you know, year-and-a-half serving on the public relations committee and then transitioning into my role as Tri-Director — just so many unique memories, so many unique people that I would not have been able to experience or meet anywhere else. And so, I’m really fortunate. It is a big responsibility, and, you know, sometimes I equate it to like when you’re really tired on your drive home from school or somewhere, and you get home, and you’re like, “How did we just — like how did I get home?” That’s kind of how I feel about Homecoming.
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:15:41] Lets not drive tired.
Jenna Cederblad: [00:15:41] Right. Yeah. But like we got here, we’re at the end. How did we get here. And I wouldn’t have been able to do it without, you know, Grace and Trent, the other Tri-Directors, the 37 incredible people on our Steering Committee that put in so many hours and worked so so tirelessly to make it all happen. You know, this is a volunteer position, and we couldn’t have asked for 37 better leaders to come volunteer their time with us. And then as well as the Missouri Alumni Association because, you know, they make it all happen.
Moderator: [00:16:11] There’s so many wonderful things that go into Homecoming. So many wonderful events. I kind of mentioned one a little bit. But Jenna and Nnamdi, if you had to pick one event or one experience that the Chancellor shouldn’t miss this year at this year’s Homecoming, what would it be?
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:16:27] Am I allowed to pick my own event?
Moderator: [00:16:27] You can!
Chancellor Cartwright: [00:16:29] Of course!
Moderator: [00:16:29] There are no rules here.
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:16:31] Obviously the parade. (Laughing)
Jenna Cederblad: [00:16:35] I would probably say campus decorations. Kind of walking around Greek Town the night before Homecoming. I don’t know if you got to do it last year, but you kind of walk through Greek Town, you see all of the work that the chapter members put in from the traditions level of involvement, and then walking over directly to the sprit rally on Tradition’s Plaza. It’s a very great way to kick off the weekend.
Moderator: [00:16:57] Well, thank you all so much for being here today. I’m very excited for the festivities on Saturday. So, one more thing before we leave: Why does a steak cooked on the moon taste better than a steak cooked on earth?
Jenna Cederblad: [00:17:13] Oh no.
Everyone: [00:17:14] (Laughing)
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:17:14] My degree didn’t prepare me for this.
Everyone: [00:17:15] (Laughing)
Moderator: [00:17:18] Because it’s a little meatier! Ah!
Everyone: [00:17:20] (Laughing)
Nnamdi Okoli: [00:17:20] Ok!
Moderator: [00:17:20] It’s my favorite one!
Everyone: [00:17:20] (Laughing)
Moderator: [00:17:33] Our audio engineer is Aaron Hay. Our featured music is “Forest Park Rhapsody,” composed by MU undergraduate and music composition major, Ben Colagiovanni. You can find more information about Ben and his piece on the Inside Mizzou webpage. Make sure to join us next time, and keep an eye out for the Chancellor’s newsletter to stay on top of what’s happening at Mizzou. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Inside Mizzou. See you around the columns!