As a Tucsonan, “Bear Down” and “Wildcat” are words I grew up with. But it wasn’t until the chapter of my life as a University of Arizona student that I discovered what it meant to Bear Down as an official Wildcat.
My husband, Alex, and I met in middle school and started dating in high school. We had always been Wildcat fans, but we developed a new affinity for the university when we began our journey as undergrads. College memories rush in any time we’re on campus, but some of our favorites took place during Homecoming.
We relived some of these memories recently when we celebrated the 105th anniversary of the first Arizona Homecoming with the Arizona Alumni Association. While I have always attended the Homecoming tailgate and football games in the past, this year marked three new traditions I hadn’t experienced before: the Lighting of “A” Mountain, the Homecoming bonfire and the parade. These new experiences were incredible, and I was blown away by how tremendously hard the Alumni Association works to deliver a spirit-filled schedule for Homecoming week.
Hello from Tucson! My name is Natalie J. Moe, and I'm the founder/content creator of the lifestyle brand Happily Pink. On my blog and Instagram, you will find in-depth storytelling focused on food and travel. I'm a firm believer that anything is attainable in life if you're willing to put in the time and work.
Sentinel Peak has always been a Tucson landmark, but for the past 100-plus years it’s been known as “A” Mountain. The lighting tradition started when freshmen would burn off the shrubbery that had grown on the “A” to prepare the rock for whitewashing. This event used to take place before the first football game of the season, but as the years passed, the university decided to move the lighting celebration to the beginning of Homecoming week.
This year, the Alumni Association moved the viewing party to the MSA Annex for an up-close-and-personal experience of “A” Mountain. As Alex and I approached the entrance, stamped on the ground was the new Wonder campaign. We passed the words:
Wonder makes us give back.
Wonder makes us all alumni.
Wonder makes us explore.
Wonder makes us ignite.
Wonder makes us create.
Wonder makes us Bear Down.
In the distance, navy blue and cardinal red filled our vision. We heard the Arizona Alumni Band playing their brass and drums. The energy was infectious, and the crowd roared with approval when the band started playing “Bear Down, Arizona.” Wilma Wildcat posed with fans, and the cheerleaders chanted fight songs. Alumni Association Vice President of Student and Alumni Engagement Marc Acuña stood on the stage and rallied up students, alumni and Wildcat fans alike. With the sun setting behind Sentinel Peak, the Bobcats Senior Honorary ignited the flares placed on the “A” rocks.
Alex and I cheered as we watched the “A” become encompassed in a bright, red glow. We weren’t alone in our cheering — the enthusiastic crowd snapped photos, ASUA clubs shouted and, of course, several people threw up a “WC” symbol with their hands. Despite attending for the first time, we immediately felt like part of the family. Whether you’re a student or alum, it’s never too late to make new traditions. On the way home, Alex and I discussed how we look forward to attending this event again next year.
Five days later, Homecoming weekend arrived! So many exciting activities awaited us.
So we wouldn’t miss out on any events, Alex and I decided to stay at Aloft Tucson University Hotel. It was an obvious choice — in addition to the close proximity to campus, we enjoyed a spacious king room with beautiful views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
We decided to take advantage of the beautiful evening with a stroll over to Old Main for the bonfire. At this long-held traditional event, crowds of fans mingle with the Pride of Arizona marching band, Wilbur and Wilma, the cheerleaders and the Homecoming court.
After we reached the west side of Old Main, we immediately saw everyone’s Wildcat pride was out in full force! Old Main glowed with a red and blue light show, and members of the Pride of Arizona band decorated the entire front deck and stairs of Old Main while the pom line danced in front of the stage.
Arizona Alumni Association President Melinda Burke opened the program, welcoming anyone who identified as a Wildcat. Alex and I sat next to the Berger Memorial Fountain, and next to us stood Wilbur and Wilma. We looked out into the vast crowd that surrounded Old Main and noted the hundreds of people in attendance. After the crowning of Homecoming king and queen, the bonfire was lit.
As the embers of the bonfire grew greater and brighter, so did our Wildcat spirit. One of my favorite parts of the evening took place when every single person sang the final words to “Bear Down, Arizona” — it’s a memory I’ll treasure for years to come.
The following morning, we quickly grabbed breakfast in Aloft and headed out to one of the university’s most treasured traditions — the Homecoming parade. The annual parade, which debuted in 1929, filled the Mall with 30 entries and a sea of eager Wildcats.
Alex and I caught this event for the first time and enjoyed seeing floats that represented various student organizations, alumni groups and the Pride of Arizona marching band. I loved seeing the enthusiasm all alumni share when they make their return to campus.
I was impressed to discover that the class of 1969, who celebrated their 50th reunion this year, delivered a check to the university in the amount of $1.4 million! This broke the record for the largest class gift in university history. Alex and I both agreed that when you graduate from Arizona, the love for your university doesn’t stop after you receive your degree. As a Wildcat for Life, you only continue to love the university more and more.
An hour later, the Homecoming Parade came to an end. Alex and I decided to continue our celebration and walked over to the Wildcat for Life Tailgate Party.
Past the blue and red balloon arch, giant emojis caught our attention. This year, the Alumni Association designed a photo pop-up of the bear and down-arrow emojis to symbolize “Bear Down.” Obviously, we had to take a photo!
In another corner, they had a second photo pop-up for alumni who flew into the Tucson International Airport. The day before the bonfire, I had the joy of seeing the airport decorated for visiting alumni when I flew back into Tucson from a mid-week work trip.
Next, we spotted the alumni sign-in. We walked past the 1970s through 2000s easels before finding our class decade: 2010s. I signed in as a 2015 graduate and thought about how next year marks a new decade of Wildcats who will learn to discover the passion all alumni share for the university.
Before stopping for food, we noticed everyone signing Wilbur’s 60th birthday banner. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to wish him a happy birthday at the bonfire, but I made sure to write him a nice note from me and Alex.
After a spirit-filled week, I felt the adrenaline from the Wildcats surrounding me. For nearly 10 years, Alex and I have walked along the corridor from the Mall that leads to Arizona Stadium. Win or lose, we would still be proud.
The 105th anniversary of Homecoming united nearly 60,000 Wildcats and fans, and Alex and I consider ourselves lucky to be included in that number. Whether you’ve been away from the university for a month or a few years, you always remember to Bear Down the moment you step foot on campus.Support your alma mater as a sustaining member of the Arizona Alumni Association