By David Perry
If there was anything students needed to know about downtown Lowell, Tom Lamond was there to help. At a pair of six-foot tables stocked with printed materials, Lamond was among folks from the city’s department of Planning and Development who welcomed students to the bounty of Mill City offerings awaiting them.
The university’s third annual “Welcome Back” night drew students to Mill No. 5 for an evening of music, food and socializing. It was also a testament to the bond between the city and university, whose interests are inevitably intertwined.
“I knew this was a mill town, the first in the U.S.,” said freshman mechanical engineering major Willie Medeiros, “but I didn’t know about this. It’s not your average place.”
The mill’s retail stores, theater, market and coffee shop were open, and students enjoyed complimentary food offerings in the hallway.
Outside the mill, students entered to the rowdy, horn-driven funk of the Party Band, a Mill City staple born at the university. A drummer bashed away on a vintage kerosene can, and when they lit into “I’ll Fly Away,” trombonist Ed Goroza ’18 was out front, whirling like a dervish.
Dozens of passers-by whipped out phones to record the performance.
Inside, Rowdy the River Hawk wandered the mill, high-fiving and posing for pictures. Hawkapella rendered vocals-only songs, including a cover of “Jessie’s Girl,” And two DifferenceMaker teams showed off their projects.
Andy Jacobson, owner of Brew’d Awakening and head of COOL (Cultural Organization of Lowell), guided students toward a slew of arts-related events over the coming months.
Steve Tello, the university’s senior assistant vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development, encouraged students to take advantage of the city’s rich arts and cultural resources.
Mayor Ed Kennedy said he hopes students will “take time to go downtown and see what the city has to offers, in terms of restaurants, shops and cultural events.”
He specifically touted the Sept. 23 Kinetic Sculpture Race, which is in its second year.
“Last year, it brought 3,500 people to Lowell,” said Kennedy. “There are three times as many entrants this year, and we’re expecting a bigger crowd.”
Lamond said the evening was a great way to get the students acquainted with what’s happening right downtown – and for the city to learn about the students. “We’re here to promote the businesses in the city, as well as some of the events and partnerships we have with arts groups,” said Lamond. He wanted students to know the city welcomes them: “There are a lot of things available to them, such as Mill No. 5, which you might not expect to find in Lowell – a sort of hipster, cool place to go.”
The collaboration on Welcome Back night is another example of the city and the university working together. In August, the two signed a historic master agreement that affirms cooperation on efforts from infrastructure improvements to snow removal and economic development.
Students appreciated discovering the nearby cultural and entertainment options available to them.
“Having a nice downtown definitely brings your education up to a higher standard,” said Ethan Hyburg, a freshman computer science major. “You can’t go through college – your prime years – without enjoying life outside the classroom. You need other places to go too.”
“For me, this is interesting,” said Alhanouf Alhawiti, a chemical engineering major from Saudi Arabia. “I like to go to discover a place by seeing its shops, the local ones, like these. It is how you see the culture.”
“You need to get away from just studying,” said Vanessa Dallemand, a transfer student from Dedham. “If you’re going to make the best of your four years, you need to come up, destress and really put things into perspective.”