Bright stars dotted the night sky as a cool breeze swept through the UM campus. University students and their families, faculty, staff and alumni lined Stanford Drive along with the Coral Gables community, anxiously waiting for those creative floats to drive by.

At about 7:30 p.m., flashing police lights and the steady beating of the drum of Iron Arrow Society-the most prestigious honor society at the University-signaled the beginning of the Homecoming Parade.

The parade would only be the beginning of a long night of Homecoming festivities known as Storm Watch.

“I believe that it’s the most exciting night of Homecoming,” said Robert Castro, chair of the Homecoming committee and member of Iron Arrow.

The Homecoming Parade has been celebrated every Homecoming since UM’s humble beginnings, when students would decorate their cars and parade them through the downtown area.

Over time it has evolved into the parade celebrated today, with the imaginative floats and the “Best Float” competition.

The Homecoming Parade, themed “Taking Shelter from the Storm,” brought smiles to many faces as students drove their floats down Stanford Drive.

Student organizations such as Zeta Beta Tau, Kappa Kappa Gamma, United Black Students and Salsa Craze participated this year, along with the Band of the Hour marching band, the Miami Hurricanes cheerleaders, Newberry Preschool and Riviera Middle School.

The grand marshall this year was Perry Clark, head coach of the men’s basketball team, followed by President Donna Shalala. Sebastian the Ibis, the school’s mascot, interacted with the audience and made children laugh.

“It was great, a lot better than last year,” said Bonnee Binker, whose son is in the marching band. “The floats, the weather, everything.”

“I think it showed a lot of UM spirit, got people out, and it was very good,” said Alex Mephaber, UM alum and faculty member in the School of Medicine.

Even “Super Cane” made an appearance.

“Super Cane stands for truth, justice and school spirit, because that’s what being in Miami is all about,” said Bryan Bingman, the senior who plays Super Cane. “I just want to be there for my team. They’re always considered superheroes and I want to be along with them.”

Once all the participants had shown their school pride and all the floats were judged, spectators moved to the UC Patio, where a pep rally was held to fire up the ‘Canes spirit.

The UM cheerleaders and Sebastian the Ibis led the crowd through different cheers to get them excited for the Homecoming game against the Syracuse Orangemen after the Band of the Hour performed all of the ‘Cane fight songs.

“It’s always enthusiastic,” said Ibis Recio, the wife of a professor who was invited by students celebrating their 40th reunion. “They’re having a lot of fun.”

The winners of the Miss UM and Mr. UM beauty pageants were introduced and further enthused the crowd.

After the pep rally, when everyone felt as if they could bleed orange and green, the crowd was led to the banks of Lake Osceola, where they were handed candles and led in singing the Alma Mater.

After the Alma Mater was the infamous boat burning, in which a raft-like boat is sent into the middle of Lake Osceola and set on fire.

Legend has it that if the mast breaks before the boat sinks, UM will win the Homecoming football game.

Everyone watched as sparks and small fireworks were shot out of the boat, setting it on fire, before the boat exploded into a large cloud of flames.

“I thought it was a really good gesture. I liked it, and I didn’t expect that explosion at the end at all,” said Zack Gershman, freshman.

The legend was supported by UM’s 17-10 victory in the Homecoming football game the next day.

Following the boat burning, a grand fireworks display lit up the clear night sky. Everyone sprawled out along the banks of the lake to enjoy the show.

“I thought the fireworks were extraordinary; the finale was so special,” Ava Zaken, a UM alum of the late 1970s, said.

The night was not over yet. ‘Canes Night Live sponsored the Homecoming After-Party, where students, alumni, faculty and their families partied until the early morning hours.

Students of all ages danced the night away as the band Libidos lit up the stage with music from all generations, including disco, salsa and hip-hop.

Dinner included a free barbeque with hamburgers, hot dogs and popcorn. The Rat was open as well, serving drinks throughout the night.

According to those present, there was something for everybody at this year’s Storm Watch: music, food, a parade, fireworks, a boat burning and plenty of school spirit.

“I’m glad to see that our tuition money is being put to good use,” Annette Ponnock, sophomore, said.

Christine Dominguez can be contacted at c.dominguez3@umiami.edu.