History during Homecoming

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During Homecoming Weekend, which happened October 10-12, the campus was even more vibrant and alive than usual. Campus tours, class reunion events, and special museum and lab exhibitions presented lots of opportunities for families to get a flavor of what our campus has to offer our students and gave alumni the chance to return and see in what ways Berkeley is the same and different as it was when they went here. This year, as a newly hired member of the Visitor and Parent Services staff, I had the unique opportunity to partake in a Homecoming festivity unlike any I had done before.

On Friday afternoon, I had the incredible pleasure of shadowing a historical tour led by Peter Van Houten. He conducts this historical tour each year during Homecoming, and always requests a few tour guides to accompany him and enthusiastically teach Cal songs to the tour guests, many of whom are Cal alums and families.

But this tour was not like the campus tours I routinely give. This tour was centered on the history of the founding of Cal and Cal in its early years, and in order to make the tour interactive and accessible, Mr. Van Houten dressed up as some of the key players instrumental in the university’s founding and early years!

He first led us to Durant Hall, where, dressed as the Reverend Samuel Willey, talked about how Willey and Henry Durant came up with the idea to form this university and nourished the idea until it came into fruition. He dressed up as Professor Charles Mills Gayley when we arrived at Wheeler Hall, telling us about his creation of the campus’ first song, ‘The Golden Bear” in 1985, and about former president Benjamin Ide Wheeler. Up by the Campanile and LeConte Hall, he donned the costume of Professor Joseph LeConte and recounted stories about this beloved instructor. When we ventured over to the Faculty Club, he appeared as Professor Henry Stephens and regaled us with stories of the old academic senate.

It was very gratifying to spend the afternoon teaching these songs, and I myself learned some cool new Cal facts I can sprinkle throughout my tours. I learned that Professor LeConte was so revered by his students that they used to bring him flowers on his birthday. The campus still honors his birthday by each year having a ceremony to remember those lost within the Cal community the previous year. I also discovered that above one of the doorways in the Faculty Club, university crests from other universities including Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford, adorn the wall to represent where many of our faculty are from. This is incidentally the only place where the Stanford symbol is displayed on the entire campus ☺

Accompanying Mr. Van Houten on this tour, and learning so much Cal history along the way, reminded me how lucky I am to attend a school where alumni and current students come together and share the stories that help to compile the very rich history that makes Cal the phenomenal institution that it is.


(The three tour guides that accompanied the tour)

Author: Alyssa

Hi! My name is Alyssa and I am a junior here at UC Berkeley studying English and Peace and Conflict Studies. Within English, I’m very interested in 19th and 20th American and British literature, though I’ve been known to quote Shakespeare from time to time. Within Peace and Conflict Studies (PACS as it’s usually called), I’m very interested in food security and human rights relating to food and wellbeing. I have been a Campus Ambassador for about 7 months now and absolutely love it – I get to talk about Cal all day long! In addition to being a tour guide, I’m involved with a couple of other awesome groups on campus. I am the Director of Publicity for the UC Rally Committee, which is a spirit organization that puts on spirit events and rallies for the campus and attends lots of sporting events. I also sing in the UC Women’s Chorale and tutor writing a couple times a month at Berkeley High School. In my free time here at Cal, I love to hang out with my friends, sing and play piano, and try new food places around Berkeley (there are so many delicious options!). I’m so happy to be a Golden Bear!