DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- One year after North Carolina Central University's virtual homecoming, eager alumni and Eagles fans returned to the campus and surrounding neighborhoods for the annual parade.
Jimmy Newkirk graduated from NCCU in 1974, and came back for every homecoming at his alma mater. Asked how he felt on Saturday, his eyes lit up above his mask.
"Oh yes, just like a dream deferred,"" he said. "I am so excited about it."
Zandra Turner graduated 22 years ago and played in the marching band during her undergrad years. She said she would skip the game because of health concerns, but proudly wore her school's colors while watching the parade with her child.
"This is my son, Elijah. Bringing him out to enjoy the college festivities," she said. "To see the parade, to see the bands. He really loves the bands, don't you, man?" she asked as Elijah nodded with enthusiasm. "He loves the bands, but he's trying to keep warm right now."
Another NCCU alumna, Lynell Brown, said she enjoyed Friday night's entertainment while preparing for game day.
"We saw D.L. Hughley, who is one of my favorites. Great laughs with him. But my favorite thing is just coming, hanging out all day, seeing new people. Getting closer to the old ones I went to school with, and catching up with everybody," said Brown.
The campus has evolved since the last in-person homecoming and people noticed the changes.
"So many new buildings. I'm still trying to reacquaint myself with these new buildings," said Newkirk. "Plus bigger crowds, as well. And folks seem to be more dedicated. They're still practicing 'Truth In Service.'"
He's one of the alumni who came and stayed masked up, even though that's an option in Durham for outdoor, socially distanced activities. But people like Gwendolyn Rogers, an assistant principal at a school in Robeson County, dressed for the chilly weather as well as the possibility of exposure to the coronavirus.
"Working with children from pre-K to third grade, I know how important it is to have your mask on, to keep each other safe so we're not spreading this COVID-19," she said. "So hopefully, everything will come to an end."
Zandria Turner is ready to roll up her son's sleeve, now that the Pfizer vaccine has been approved for children 5 to 11.
"He knows the importance of keeping the mask on so he doesn't get sick." she said. "Now we're waiting to talk with his doctor and make sure there are no side effects with the vaccination. He's actually ready. He's asked me when is he going to get the vaccination, so definitely with it. I've been vaccinated myself, getting ready to get my booster."
She and others look forward to the day when everyone who wants to attend homecoming in person is protected, and able to resume all traditional activities on campus.