Covered in yellows, reds, and leftover hints of green, the fall foliage on campus this weekend provided the perfect backdrop for the annual Homecoming and Family Weekend. Unfortunately, 2020 had other plans. This year, there would be no hugs from parents, no handshakes to former classmates and no cheering crowds celebrating a Spartan win. 

Undeterred by the pandemic, Case Western Reserve University pressed on with the 99th annual Homecoming weekend, albeit in a very different way. Starting with behind-the-scenes look at The Dittrick Museum of Medical History on Thursday morning and concluding with the Latinx Alumni Association Membership Meeting on late Sunday afternoon, the university hosted 84 virtual alumni events with over 1,433 registered to attend.

Student activities took place on campus (socially distanced) and virtually throughout the weekend—from a fireworks show at East Bell Commons to a decorating contest to show off spirited living and studying spaces. Plus, 10 students were named to the homecoming court, with three—J’Niah Johnston, Corey King and Bidisha Raychaudhuri—winning spots as homecoming royalty.

Interim President Scott Cowen made his first official on-campus appearance since assuming his new post, hosting Thursday evening’s Blue Block Party festivities from a quiet Linsalata Alumni Center. From the podium, but broadcast online, Cowen remotely welcomed close to 200 alumni and friends before announcing a transformative $2 million gift to the university from alumnus James C. Wyant (CIT ’65).

The gift will support the establishment of the James C. Wyant Athletic Department Endowment, the naming of the Athletic Director position as the James C. Wyant Athletic Director as well as the creation of the Frederick Reines Professorship, a shared position to be held jointly in the College of Arts and Sciences and Case School of Engineering.

Four alumni pose for a photo with another alum on a TV screen
Four alumni self-quarantined in Salt Lake City, Utah, joined the live, virtual festivities. Pictured from left are Nidhi Maley (CWR ’10), and award winners K. Grace Bell (CWR ‘10), Alicia Sanchez (CWR ’10) and Aishwarya Arjunan (CWR ’10). They are joined (virtually) by Brian Browne (CWR ’10).

Then, on Friday, the Alumni Association of Case Western Reserve University honored five outstanding alumni for their professional accomplishments, service and overall achievements:

  • Distinguished Alumni Award: Donald E. Knuth (CIT ’60; GRS ’60, mathematics; HON ’80) received the award for his impact as the “father of the analysis of algorithms” and the author of The Art of Computer Programming. At Case Western Reserve, he serves as a member of the Case School of Engineering Silicon Valley Think Tank.
  • Newton D. Baker Distinguished Service Award: Norma Geller (SAS ‘91) was recognized for her continued volunteer and philanthropic efforts in Northeast Ohio and beyond.
  • Daniel T. Clancy Alumni Service Award: Ka-Pi Hoh (CIT ‘84, GRS ‘87, 89, macromolecular science) earned the award for her active involvement in helping advance STEM opportunities for women both through her employer, Lubizol Corporation, and CWRU; as well as her service on the Alumni Task Force, the Advisory Board for the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, and as a founding member of the Alumni Board of Directors.
  • Professional Achievement Award: Richard H. Thaler (ADL ‘67, HON ‘03), a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science in 2017 and credited as one of the “fathers of behavioral economics,” was presented the Professional Achievement Award. 
  • Young Alumni Award: K. Grace Bell (CWR ‘10) was recognized for her efforts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic to expand services to food-insecure patients, serving more than 73,000 meals in four states.

Class reunions and classic moments also took center stage during the weekend as several schools recognized alumni celebrating milestone graduation years. The School of Medicine, for example, welcomed back alumni from the class of 1960 who logged on to Zoom from Maine, California, Maryland and Massachusetts and reminisced about their days on campus and the changes that have occurred over the past 60 years. 

On Saturday, in lieu of the traditional Homecoming football game, students, faculty, staff, families and alumni watched a replay of the 1965 battle between the Rough Riders of Case Institute of Technology and archrival Red Cats of Western Reserve. The online rebroadcast, which featured play-by-play and expert commentary from alumni John Massie (CIT ’66), Paul Stephan (CIT ’64), and Jim Treleaven (CIT ’69, GRS ’90), ended the same way it did in 1965: with CIT triumphing over WRU 15-13 at Clarke Field.