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HBCU Graduations

My new friend, nostalgia, is hitting hard as I graduate from Florida A&M University

After years of eschewing her family’s Rattler legacy, this Rhoden Fellow has found her own love for the HBCU through the Marching 100 and journalism

I would consistently reply “no” when my family asked if I planned to follow in the footsteps of our legacy by attending Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. Granted, I was a defiant teenager with no explanation other than I didn’t want to do something out of family obligation.

My aunt and uncle played basketball​ and football respectively at Florida A&M in the late 1970s. I also have several cousins who graduated as Rattlers. Then there’s my father, an active member of the FAMU National Alumni Association for over 30 years; he seems to truly bleed orange and green. He buys something new at the campus bookstore during every visit (as if he doesn’t have enough memorabilia at home).

I never enjoyed being dragged to FAMU’s annual homecoming by my father, a trip that included watching the Marching 100 band practice. Although I played the euphonium, the Marching 100 wasn’t my band and FAMU wasn’t my school. It felt odd trying to force an emotional connection to a school I was familiar with only from my family’s secondhand nostalgia. It wasn’t until I got a chance to perform with the Marching 100 that I started to fall in love with FAMU myself.

Rhoden Fellow Pam Rentz’s (left) father, Larry Rentz (right), is an alumnus of Florida A&M University and the Marching 100 band. Pam Rentz’s principal instrument is the euphonium, and her father’s principal instrument is the tuba.

Petita Rentz

My aunt, the aforementioned athlete, would take me by Gaither Gymnasium to inhale its woody smell. Then she would lament how the school tore down her dorm to build an amphitheater. My cousins would chime in about their days performing as drum majors and having their faces plastered on billboards in cities where the band performed.

FAMU was far from unbearable, with stereotypical weather for Florida. I also liked watching the students laugh with their friends while trudging up steep hills on campus. (Who laughs while walking up a hill?) The most baffling thing was seeing the Marching 100 musicians appear to be remarkably happy while drenched in sweat from their show.

I was certainly intrigued by watching current students express the same sentiments about the school as my family did. Nonetheless, I just wasn’t interested in being spoon-fed someone else’s good memories.

At the end of my freshman year of high school, I was pumped to go to another year of volleyball camp at the University of Maryland, College Park. My dad was relentless in trying to persuade me to attend the Marching 100 Summer Band Camp. Both camps took place during the same week in July, so I could attend only one.

My father made a deal with me: If I went to band camp and experienced campus life and all FAMU had to offer, he would stop bothering me to attend school there.

I skeptically accepted his offer. Three months later, I was screaming the lyrics to a traditional FAMU song at the top of my lungs with other euphonium players I had met merely days before.

Despite my initial reservations, it was one of the best summers I ever had, and I think about it often. I went to FAMU’s band camp three more times before my freshman year of college and joined the Marching 100. My experience with the band was the push I needed to see the beauty and incomparable atmosphere of FAMU.

I was just as enthusiastic about my broadcast journalism studies and fell in love with writing articles for the university newspaper, The Famuan. I advanced through the ranks of the newspaper staff from sophomore to senior year, transitioning from assistant online editor to managing editor. Although the coronavirus pandemic altered a year and a half of my college experience, I still read and edited my peers’ stories – I felt connected to them and their passion for writing without even knowing what they looked like.

Working at the newspaper inspired me to pursue the sports media industry through the Rhoden Fellowship. I admired the program’s initiative to guide emerging Black journalists and expose them to experiences that would help develop them for their chosen profession.

From left to right: Rhoden Fellows Jaicee Christian, Scott Lipscomb, Rhoden Fellowship founder William Rhoden, and Fellows Pam Rentz and Zoey Hodge attend a Washington Nationals game in August 2022.

David Aldridge

As I reflect on my final days of college and the last week of the fellowship, I remember the car rides to NFL training camps with fellowship leader William Rhoden and the other fellows, debating whose historically Black college has better homecomings and choosing the top five songs to listen to for the rest of our lives.

I can’t help but feel nostalgic about walking up these campus hills laughing with the same kids I went to camp with freshman year. Some of the band campers became my roommates in my sophomore year; I now call some of them my best friends. I’m looking forward to us moving our tassels from right to left, inevitably concluding our endless summer of laughs, performances and traditional FAMU chants.

If you asked me now whether I regret my decision to accept my father’s deal to attend the Marching 100 band camp, my answer would be no. It drove me to heights my then-15-year-old imagination could not have fathomed, and I can’t wait to make a special deal with my own kids one day.

Pam Rentz is a senior broadcast journalism student from Charles County, Maryland. She is the managing editor of FAMU’s campus newspaper, The Famuan.