This was not your ordinary family picnic with ham sandwiches and potato chips. More than 8,000 people took advantage of the free food that Rice provided from Houston-area food trucks and vendors, including hot dogs, barbeque, gourmet peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Vietnamese and Asian inspired dishes, pizza, burgers, chicken and waffle fries, gumbo, sushi and an array of ice cream and deserts. A D.J. spun records as attendees laughed, talked, danced and ate.
“When I looked at the schedule, it just said ‘Centennial Picnic,’ said 2007 alum Melissa Kidonakis. When she arrived at the event, she definitely got more than she bargained for. “[The organizers] did a really great job,” she said.
According to Ann Swain, director of Rice’s faculty club, the event “could not have been any smoother or seamless” from her end. More than 32,000 servings of food were ordered for the picnic, with several of the vendors increasing their onsite production as the crowds grew.
Attendees spread out across the quad on multicolored Rice centennial-themed mats to enjoy the event. Christian Neal, president of Lovett College, was among the students who participated.
“It’s a really good opportunity to interact with not only students, but other staff members and faculty,” he said. “Anytime you have free food, a lot of people are going to come out, and it’s a great opportunity and we need to take advantage of it.”
Cassandra Kent and Pat Jones, both employees in the Controller’s Office, were among the staff members taking advantage of the feast.
“I think they’ve done a fantastic job,” Kent. “I’m sure we’re all showing that we appreciate it,” she laughed.
Jones agreed. “I think it’s awesome,” he/she said. “I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.”
Marie Wehrung, director of learning and professional development in Human Resources, said the event reminded her of her own college experience.
“It’s been great,” she said. “I’ve been out of college for a few years, but it makes me feel just like I’m back in school – we used to have all-campus picnics. It’s wonderful. Just the spirit that’s here, I love how inclusive it is – whoever’s here and wants to be here is welcome.”
The event also attracted numerous alumni, who took advantage of the opportunity to relive their time at Rice and reconnect with former classmates.
“I love the picnic, I love the setup, I love the variety of food and I love that I keep running into my friends,” said Kate Holloway, a 2005 alum who is now a student in the Jones Graduate School of Business. “I’ve hugged a lot of people today, so it’s been a great experience,” she said.
Kaleen Tison-Povis, another 2005 graduate who flew in from Pittsburg, appreciated the family-friendly nature of the event. “A lot of alums are coming with the next generation of Rice-goers,” she laughed.
Tison-Povis also remarked that she heard a lot of people at the picnic discussing the morning’s centennial address. “I think it’s nice that it’s that good mix we always have at Rice of social and academic, even here at the picnic.”