I sit on the ornamental hitching post outside my aunt’s 80 year-old weathered café anticipating the commencement of the homecoming parade. As the four floats approach, one for each class, I make the assumption that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade won’t be requesting their attendance. A few gallant horses with real cowboys atop strode by bedecked with flags, and the entire volleyball team (every girl in my high school) in the back of a pickup. I attend a dance where all one hundred of the high school students awkwardly show up for not quite knowing how to dance. Lastly, I excitedly go to the big game where the football team, state champs three years in a row, dominate over our opponents. It ends a great week filled with magnitudes of spirit and community. This is homecoming in small town Montana. Many Montanans know exactly how this week of small town homecoming feels, and how great of an experience it is.
With all do respect to small town homecomings, Montana State University’s homecoming in contrast is amazing! I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience. It all started Saturday morning as I reluctantly clambered of out bed; feeling the influence of the “Friday night.” I was determined I would see the homecoming parade flow down main street with all its celebration of welcoming back of alumni. My best friend arrived with the morning’s arsenal, a giant Americano from City Brew, and once the blood started flowing again we were off to the races.
Upon our arrival to Main Street there was a definite aurora in the air, that and the 33-degree temperature. After realizing what the hoards of other Bozemanites already had; we took post on the north side of the street, the only side the sun was hitting. Standing with contentment in the crisp air on that block of main in between Black and Bozeman Avenue we waited for an experience I had never expected.
As the procession neared us I realized that Spirit of the West, MSU’s marching band, would be kicking it off. Spirit of the West is not your average marching band in the simple sense that everyone loves them. They aren’t marginalized here contrary to the stereotype: they are revered. The performance of the MSU fight song, the hundreds of people lining the street getting graced with spirit, and blue and gold for as far as the eye could see was the perfect concoction to starting my day.
There was the sprit squad that rolled in on Harleys that revved their engines into one soul shaking thunderous roar. They produce that level of discomfort that you wanted them to move on, but longed for that vibration after they had left. There was the voice center float surrounded by humane volunteers that represent an often under acknowledged resource provided to the MSU students. With their embattlement of the issues of sexual assault and violence they are relentless; as they are the epitome of the quote by Margaret Mead, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. “
Along came the infamous MSU mascot in the fake plus bobcat fur flesh, Champ. Adorning high upon float he might as well have slapped smiles onto the faces of the children lining the street for they instantly lit up. I too have a bit of a crush on Champ, he brings that youthful joy that we ache often ache for in the midst of our busy schedules and endless mountains of homework. Another great thing about this parade though is similar to my experience of my hometown; it is a community event. It wasn’t just MSU involvement. There were both Bozeman and Belgrade High marching bands present. Local businesses, a fleet of adorable baton twirling girls referred to as the Sparkettes, candidates running for office, and even the local favorite grocery store Town and Country passing out apples. It exemplified the notion of community that is at the core of this mesmerizing western Montana town.
It was near the end of the more than 50 entries that what I had never expected happened. I have lived in a lot of places and I have gone to a few more colleges than I would have hoped, but none of them compare to what I experience here in Bozeman. I had already acquired a substantially fondness for this community, however something about the parade and the demonstration of what it means to be a bobcat, and what it feels like to experience the assimilation into a community has made me love this place even more. There is something to be said about being in a place enfolded by mountains, encircled with beauty, and entrenched with community.
“I’m in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”-John Steinbeck