Six parades of purple and gold converged on the University of Washington Tacoma campus Friday, a living metaphor of harmony.
The occasion: the university’s first convocation in more than a decade, a coming-together ceremony to welcome new students and greet those who returned for a new academic year this week.
Student and faculty leaders led the parades from different spots in the city: the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of Glass, the downtown Boys & Girls Club, the downtown KeyBank, the Native Quest Interpretive Center and the Broadway Center For the Performing Arts.
Musicians led the marchers, each playing a slightly different tune. A New Orleans-style brass band called One Love blew irresistible rhythms. The Lincoln High School marching band struck a spirited cadence. Native drummers from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians beat a dreamy pulse.
All aimed for the center of campus, the midpoint of the stairway between Jefferson and Pacific avenues.
Michelle Parker, 32, found a shady spot and watched the festivities. She’s working on a double major in communication and history. She’s attended the school for a year and a half. She likes the small classes, the easy access to faculty members, and the quality of instruction.
The ceremony sounded like a good time, and a chance to support her school.
“I am a UW student,” she said. “It sounded interesting – and it’s always a pleasure to hear what’s-her-face talk, the chancellor.”
The chancellor was Debra Friedman, who delivered the keynote address at the ceremony.
“We welcome you, UWT style,” she said, to approving cheers. “What is UWT style? Well, we’re making it up as we go along.”
Friedman said the campus has bloomed since its founding in 1990 because of the community’s efforts to bring it to life.
She said a typical convocation address would start with a 20-minute dissertation on the task students face: “study hard and distinguish yourself.” She said she would boil it down to 20 seconds, and smiled.
“Study hard and distinguish yourself,” she said. “Do it for yourself, but do it also for your family and community.”
Other speeches came from Robert Satiacum, spiritual leader of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, and Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
“Education will transform your lives,” Strickland told the crowd. “And universities like UW Tacoma can transform communities.”
The convocation soon shifted to a street fair of sorts. Local businesses set out tables and displayed their wares. Students and faculty members, some dressed in formal regalia, strolled among the tables, chatting, picking up coffee and shaking hands.
One was Bryan Goda, who teaches computer engineering. He arrived in March, after a stint at West Point. He said he was attracted to the location, the opportunities and the student body. The school also gave him a chance to be closer to his mother, who stood nearby, smiling.
“This is a great little thing,” Goda said. “We’ve never really gotten together with students and faculty like this.”
Another professor, Lisa Hoffman, is starting her 11th year at the school. She’s seen it rise from a few buildings to a full-blown urban campus. She’s a cultural anthropologist by training, and she teaches urban studies.
“When I first got here, I had to stop class for train whistles,” she said.
The convocation was just a ritual, but an important one, Hoffman said.
“Very important – it’s significant to market in this way,” she said. “It’s community-building.”
Jack McQuade, part owner of The Swiss Bar and Restaurant, which sits at the corner of the campus, hawked the new menu to passersby: breakfast, starting Saturday.
McQuade has been part owner of the place for 19 years. He remembers the early days. He could look out the window and see Williams Oil Filter, long since gone. The rumors then always said the campus would grow. It took a while.
Growth at UWT hasn’t always been quick or easy, he said – but the long-term effect has been a boon for the community.
“Oh, it’s been fantastic,” he said. “Every time they expand, it’s good for the campus – and it really allows some of the local businesses to let the students know what they’re about.”