“A day I’ll never forget…”

In 2011, James Madison University students experienced an earthquake. This fall there was another — of a decidedly different variety. But this time around the seismic impact was even greater when ESPN’s College GameDay was broadcast from the Quad. Marketing and communications intern, Rachel Petty (’17) was there. For today’s blog, she describes how the whole event reflected what it means to be a JMU Duke.

College GameDay Brought JMU Together and Embodied Our Spirit

By Rachel Petty (’17)

Hundreds of signs, purple and gold streamers and spirited students, faculty and alumni fill the quad. Chants of “J-M-U, J-M-U, J-M-U” are heard from all around. ESPN’s College GameDay hosts take the stage, and the crowd erupts.

College GameDay is a day I’ll never forget. The JMU community had the opportunity to show everyone what we’re really all about.

A sea of Dukes, savoring College GameDay

A sea of Dukes, savoring College GameDay

JMU students have such pride and spirit that we were truly able to exhibit on Saturday. Everyone was decked out in purple and gold, holding signs and cheering for our school.

The GameDay atmosphere was truly an embodiment of JMU—thousands of students attended the event, some having camped out all night.

JMU students are the perfect example of “work hard, play hard.” While we take academics seriously, there was no hesitation in putting our all into GameDay and Homecoming.

The excitement didn’t end when the broadcast ended—after tailgating, I stood in the sold-out stadium, surrounded by a sea of purple. It was packed for the football game from start to finish, and I could feel the energy in the air—signs, pom-poms and streamers contributed to the overwhelming support the fans provided for the Dukes.

Even though the game didn’t turn out how we would have liked it to [JMU lost to in-state rival Richmond], we cheered until the end and showed the team that we truly do care.

Rachel Petty ('17) on the right at GameDay

Rachel Petty (’17) on the right at GameDay

GameDay was the perfect opportunity for JMU to come together. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., campus was filled with students, faculty and alumni who love JMU and are proud to be Dukes.

Win or lose, the overwhelming spirit and atmosphere there was on Saturday made it a day that I’ll surely never forget.

Dukes from day one, alumni for life.

To see much more of the JMU GameDay coverage, check out these links: 





[Photos provided by Rachel Petty ’17]

GameDay and change

The Dukes take the field; photo by Ashley Grisham ('13)

The Dukes take the field; photo by Ashley Grisham (’13)

Sometimes the stars align.

That seems to be happening this weekend at JMU:

  • An undefeated Dukes football team (7-0)
  • playing an in-state rival in a sold-out Homecoming game
  • against the backdrop of ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from campus
  • during the peak of the Shenandoah Valley’s fall color
  • with a perfect blue-sky autumn day forecast for Saturday

Yep, sometimes the stars align.



JMU Spirit is sparkling this week, and the excitement on campus is palpable.

Right now the Quad is filled with four tractor trailers that — like transformers — are unfolding to form the set of College GameDay in front of Wilson Hall. JMU’s able Facilities Management team is doing what they do best: getting ready to host big crowds.

Students and alumni are psyched — from coast to coast. One of my colleagues called his grandmother who lives out of state on her birthday. Her first words were, “What’s this I hear about GameDay coming to JMU?”

It’s a big deal because JMU is taking the national stage for something that is overwhelmingly positive. It is a priceless opportunity for JMU to showcase its beautiful campus and remarkable spirit in front of a national TV audience.

Duke Spirit.

Harrisonburg is in on it, too. Today’s Daily News-Record featured a large, pull out tabloid cartoon (suitable for hanging) of the GameDay crew. Cartoonist and JMU alumnus John Rose (‘86) added this ominous warning to University of Richmond fans —

Every Spider Panic Now.

Hotels and restaurants are gearing up for an influx of alumni, fans and friends. Many returning Dukes will be astonished at the variety of interesting downtown shops and restaurants that have sprung up in the ’Burg, including a dizzying array of ethnic cuisines from Cuban to Indian to Irish — Middle Eastern, German, Korean and more. The full list is downright impressive.

If nothing else, this Homecoming showcases JMU’s ability to rally, to get ready, to temporarily set aside the mundane for a day or so to have some fun.

Sometimes change comes in the form of an unexpected opportunity, and what change results from all the hoopla surrounding GameDay is yet to be seen. Aside from ruts in the Quad, an exhausted Facilities Management staff, happy alumni, and —hopefully — a football victory, new memories and new impressions of the university will form this weekend. Millions of people across the country who have never heard of James Madison University will get to know us — on a campus, in a valley, on an October day, in an arena that is hard to beat.

It is a chance for change that few have. JMU and Harrisonburg intend to make the most of this week — when the stars have aligned just for us.

To see much more about GameDay, the excitement on campus, and a lot of fun videos, check out these JMU and Harrisonburg Facebook pages:






Welcome, President Alger

Dear President Alger,

Welcome to JMU on this, your first day as the sixth president of our 104-year old university. We’re glad you’re here.

We are excited to get started in the all-important getting-to-know-each-other phase. Of course, your job is much harder that ours because there is one of you and thousands of us.

Many in the “us” group are born and bred JMU, those who studied at JMU, graduated and joined our growing ranks of alumni. Some of us, like you, me and the new Class of 2016, begin as outsiders. We’ve come from other universities or other locales before landing here in Harrisonburg. The reason I tell you this is because of JMU’s most endearing and enduring quality: the university’s overwhelming sense of welcome. One 2012 grad explained it this way: “JMU’s flagship organizations aren’t Greek, like at other schools. They’re the Student Ambassadors or Safe Rides, open to everyone. They’re not exclusive — they’re inclusive.”

Since you’ve said that your first order of business is a listening tour (How cool is that!), I asked a couple of seniors to kick it off…..

Keith Zirkle (’13), a statistics major and biology minor, says:

JMU is more than late nights in libraries, pigging out at dining halls, or even forging memories with friends. It’s a personality. All Dukes are so different in our endeavors, but we generally approach life in the same way. There’s a reason we’re universally known for holding doors open. We aren’t just nice people. We’re holding doors open to our future too.

JMU shapes its students. We’re not going into the world blinkered by our careers. We’re set on making change, balancing jobs with community engagement, meeting people, and holding doors open for all the people who haven’t experienced the JMU spirit.  What sets a JMU Duke apart from any other college graduate is the atmosphere ‑— the magic — of campus.  I’ve heard of people being states away and meeting other JMU grads in grocery store parking lots and they share that instant connection.

Engineering major Matt Wisniewski (’13) agrees with Keith. Matt says that learning JMU’s social culture

“will take time, and that’s okay. JMU is known for being incredibly welcoming and hospitable. This may be overwhelming at times, or even considered somewhat fake due to President Alger’s position. However, I have come to learn that these feelings of concern for fellow Dukes are indeed genuine and a huge part of Madison’s identity.”

Matt’s right. It is genuine and it seeps into every crevice of the campus. It gets under your skin and into your DNA. One friend of the university (who like you and me was from elsewhere) told me recently that when he first came to campus he asked student after student if they liked it here. Every single one of them said, “I love it here.” He was amazed and a little doubtful at first, but he came to understand how very real this welcoming culture of James Madison University is.

We really do love it here — and we think you and your family will too. We look forward to your leadership, but most of all we look forward to getting to know you.

Welcome to JMU.

Many thanks to Keith and Matt for their help with this post.

Dukes making news

One Duke and one former Duke made national headlines this week.

Charles Haley ('87)

The National Footbal League announced that Charles Haley (’87) is a finalist for the NFL’s Hall of Fame Class of 2011. Haley — the only football player in NFL history to earn five Superbowl rings — was a fourth-round draft pick out of JMU in 1986. He went on to a successful career with the San Francisco 49s and the Dallas Cowboys. Read Charles’ Be the Change profile here: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/people/haley.shtml

This is the first year that fans can vote for their favorites. So if you’d like to vote for Charles, here’s the link: http://www.fanschoice.com/ The fans’ choice list will be announced on Feb. 6. so vote right away!

Dawn Evans ('11), spokesperson for NephCure

Another Duke in the news this week is current basketball standout Dawn Evans. She is making news not only as the top scorer in the nation but as a champion for many individuals suffering from serious kidney disease. Diagnosed last year with Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, Dawn’s determination to succeed despite the obstacle is inspiring.  Yesterday’s USA Today featured Dawn and her story.  You’ll want to read it and see the video clip.  Here’s the link.


Both Dawn and Charles are testimony to JMU’s potent merger of excellent students, a challenging atmosphere and sincere support — a formula that cultivates success.  Every student has potential, and so many — like Dawn and Charles — achieve it.

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