By Jill Spotz

Alumni near and far gathered June 7-13 for Lafayette College’s 2021 Virtual Reunion. With the health and safety of the Lafayette community in mind due to the pandemic, the College’s three-day, in-person Reunion was replaced with online experiences this year. Programming featured something for everyone, including educational sessions such as “The Extraordinary Life of Madame de Lafayette” to yoga sessions with alumni, and social opportunities. Alumni also participated in programs featuring important topics such as social justice, sustainability, and career advancement. More than 500 alumni joined the online sessions.

Image of Madame Lafayette sitting at a desk from the college archives

“Monsieur de La Fayette carried out in the month of April the plan he had been meditating for six months to serve the cause of American independence. I was with child, and I loved him dearly. My father and the rest of the family were all in a violent rage at the news. My mother, worried about the effect the departure might have on me, was alarmed herself about the dangers, far away, to a son that she cherished so tenderly . . . ” Photo Credit: Lafayette College Special Collections
~ Diane Windham Shaw, director emerita of Special Collections and College Archives, quoting the wife of General Lafayette during her presentation of “The Extraordinary Life of Madame de Lafayette.”

“Although nothing can replace Lafayette’s in-person Reunion experience, the wide range of programming offered throughout the week allowed many alumni to attend sessions that fit their schedule,” explains Chris Tomik ’03, senior associate director of Alumni Relations. “A significant benefit was the opportunity for alumni to participate this year who otherwise would not have been able to attend due to their distance from College Hill.”

Utilizing the online platform Socio, attendees were able to view the full week’s schedule, speaker bios, and more through both a mobile and desktop application. Throughout the week, alumni participated in challenges to win prizes, shared photos of Commencement from years past, Rivalry games, and more on an online “wall,” and joined open meeting rooms via Zoom for their specific class. In a tight race, the top prize was awarded to Suzi Webster ’05. She will be able to attend her/his next Reunion free of charge.

Alumna wearing a Lafayette hat

Kate Taylor ’89 sports her Lafayette baseball cap that was included in her Reunion box. Alumni were able to pre-purchase Reunion boxes, which were chock-full of Lafayette swag including drinkware, face masks, and more.

Virtual Reunion kicked off June 7 with an online vote to name Michael Weisburger ’82 vice president of the Alumni Association, as well as a trivia challenge featuring Lafayette-themed questions.

Jeff Wheeler ’16, who was looking forward to his first Reunion since he graduated, participated in several sessions throughout the week.

“I was glad to see the familiar face of a faculty member during a talk, and a fellow ’16 alum at the Friday happy hour,” Wheeler explained. “It gave me a sense of what college life has been like for current students, and I was impressed at how well faculty and staff have adapted to this new form of programming. And now I’m even more excited for the in-person events we’ll have when it’s safe to do so. We’ll have much to celebrate when that day comes.”

Alumna Sandy Kazinski ’85 felt the Socio application added to the online experience.

“It wasn’t straight up Zoom; you could connect to people, ask questions, navigate to videos and documents,” she explained.  “I will also admit to enjoying the healthy competition of the daily challenges. I was the oldest alumna who was in the top third to fourth place with some younger gals. I dug out pictures for photo challenges, which bubbled up the need to reemerge and see people in person sans mask. I heard from classmates after reposting to social media … I walked away learning a little bit about a number of topics, and also enjoyed an opportunity to engage.”

Alumnus Andre McDaniel pictured with his parents at Commencement on Lafayette's campus in 1976

Andre McDaniel ’76 shared a photo on the virtual wall from his Commencement in 1976.

On June 9 President Alison Byerly presented her last State of the College address, which is typically held on Saturday morning of Reunion weekend, where she reflected on the many moments and milestones during her tenure, including her favorite opportunities to speak with alumni.

“Some of my favorite memories of Lafayette involved watching the streams of alumni from all of the different classes walk by, and Steve and I would wave during the alumni parade,” said Byerly during her remarks. “It’s hard to believe that this is my last alumni gathering, and it is making me nostalgic.”

“Both the youngest class of alumni joining us this year—the Class of 2016—and those celebrating their 50th—the Class of 1971—will most likely agree that they never believed their Reunion would be virtual if you asked them this question more than a year ago,” said Tracy Hagert Sutka ’82 P’17, president of the Alumni Association, during her remarks. “I’m sure the members of the Class of 1970, who missed their 50th in 2020 but are celebrating this year, will also agree … But we have assembled a week’s worth of engaging virtual opportunities that I hope you will take advantage of.”

Missed a session? Visit the full schedule (use access code: REUNION2021) to view recordings from many of the programs, including “Artifacts from the Archives,” “A Shot in the Arm: The COVID Vaccines and Our Slow Climb Out of the Pandemic Pit,” and more.


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