By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Even Mother Nature was happy to see all the Lopers back on campus.
She provided the perfect evening for the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s annual Blue and Gold Showcase, a back-to-school bash that brings students, employees, alumni and community members together to celebrate the start of a new academic year.
Friday’s event featured all the components of a good party – live music, delicious food, yard games, a dunk tank and about 3,000 people filled with Loper pride. There were plenty of product giveaways and prizes, too.
Close to 200 exhibitors – campus organizations, academic programs, local businesses and nonprofits – set up booths along the green space surrounding Cope Fountain. And nearly all of them had something to hand out.
It took Annie and Ellie Trotter less than an hour to fill their hands and four bags with goodies. They had snow cones, UNK pennants, Hawaiian leis, a balloon rabbit, candy, Frisbees, ramen noodles and much more.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Annie said as her group headed toward a free picnic hosted by Chancellor Doug Kristensen.
The twin sisters from Columbus moved to campus a week ago as incoming freshmen. They’re both members of the Pride of the Plains Marching Band, which performed later that evening at Foster Field, and they’re hoping to find additional groups to join.
Blue and Gold Showcase provided the perfect opportunity to learn more about campus and their new community.
“It’s a good way to get students interested in getting involved with other things around campus,” said Annie, who was definitely “looking around.”
“And it’s really lively,” she added. “It’s nice to see everyone around here.”
Cunningham’s Journal and Cunningham’s on the Lake co-owner Yousef Ghamedi was equally excited to see campus humming again. He was grilling free hamburgers and hot dogs for attendees while a couple employees gave away T-shirts, insulated cups and other prizes.
“I think it’s fantastic,” he said. “We love being involved in UNK events.”
As a UNK graduate, Ghamedi is always happy to support his alma mater. It’s a win-win in his mind, because the university supports his restaurants, too.
Lopers are not only potential customers, they’re his main employee pool. A QR code posted at the Cunningham’s booth took students straight to the job application.
“The vast majority of our employees are UNK students or graduates,” said Ghamedi, who called the university an “integral part of Kearney.”
“If UNK thrives, we’ll thrive. That’s the truth,” he said.
And UNK is definitely thriving.
After a year with mandatory face masks and other safety measures in place, UNK Student Engagement and the Office of Student and Family Transitions made sure this version of Blue and Gold Welcome Week brought an extra level of excitement.
Grace McDonald, student coordinator for Blue and Gold Welcome Week, couldn’t help but smile as she watched students and employees high-fiving, hugging and interacting with each other.
“We’re coming back from a Blue Gold Week that didn’t have as much color and life,” she said. “I wanted to bring the same enthusiasm I felt my freshman year.”
The junior from Rockville considers it a “huge honor” to help organize such a special event.
“This is something we put months and months and months into. To see it all come together is just amazing,” McDonald said.
PHOTOS BY ERIKA PRITCHARD AND TODD GOTTULA, UNK COMMUNICATIONS