Due to the ongoing pandemic and related public health concerns, Cornell will hold all-virtual Reunion events this June for a second consecutive year, university officials announced today.
Reunion organizers hope to build on the broad success of the all-virtual 2020 Reunion, held just a few months into the pandemic, to create a welcoming and memorable virtual celebration this June 11-12. Like last year, Reunion 2021 will be open to all Cornellians, allowing alumni from all classes across the world to participate.
The decision to go all-virtual for a second year of Reunion was a difficult one, but could not be put off any longer, said Michelle Vaeth ’98, associate vice president for Alumni Affairs. Public health risks and the resources required to staff and safely accommodate 8,000 people on campus all were considered.
“While this news may not come as a surprise, it comes with sadness and disappointment for all of us,” Vaeth said in an email sent to alumni Feb. 17. “We know that a virtual Reunion is not an equal substitute for our alumni hoping to return to our beautiful campus and celebrate with their Cornell family.”
The decision “was made with the safety and well-being of our alumni, students and community at the forefront of our minds,” she said.
Additionally, Vaeth gave an update regarding the Class of 2020, Cornell’s newest alumni. The university had hoped to hold an in-person Commencement celebration for them this year on June 5 and 6. “Last spring, we had every reason to hope that in-person celebrations would be possible this summer, but we know now that these plans must also change,” she said. “We are working to create a special recognition of our 2020 graduates during Virtual Reunion [and] will be sharing details as plans come together.”
Volunteers and staff had been working tirelessly to figure out viable scenarios and planning for both virtual and in-person Reunion options for this year, said Lisa Bushlow ’91, senior director of class, student and young alumni programs for the Division of Alumni Affairs and Development. Now they can focus their attention on making virtual Reunion the very best it can be, she said.
“We all could use a dose of uplifting Cornell spirit, and Reunion 2021 will allow us to come together as one very big Cornell family,” she said.
Bushlow, who is looking forward to her own 30th Reunion this year, said more than 10,000 Cornellian households participated in virtual Reunion 2020 events, with content viewed by alumni on six continents and in 77 countries.
“I have been inspired by the creativity of Cornell classes, colleges and groups in maintaining connections to each other and to the university in the digital space over the past year,” said A’ndrea Van Schoick ’96, board president of the Cornell Association of Class Officers, who will celebrate her class’ 25th Reunion this year.
Although she is disappointed about missing the opportunity to celebrate in person, “I have every confidence that the Reunion classes of the 1s and 6s, diverse alumni groups and Class and Reunion Programs staff will rise to this challenge and create a unique and truly special event that Cornell alumni from around the world will be able to fully engage in and enjoy,” Van Schoick said.
Cornell’s decision to host a virtual Reunion again “is the right thing to do,” said Katrina James ’96, a Cornell trustee and chair of her own Class of 1996 25th Reunion. “Still, I can’t help feeling sad and disappointed. My co-chair and I planned our 20th together, and we had lots of exciting meals and activities in store for this one. It is also a Cornell Black Alumni Association reunion year, so I would have had a chance to celebrate with friends from across many classes.”
James said she looks forward to a return to in-person events once mass vaccinations have ended the pandemic. “In the meantime, we will work hard to plan virtual events to help classmates connect and reconnect in the same way they would have on campus. I hope that [this] Reunion will offer opportunities for Cornellians to come together to socialize in both structured and unstructured ways, learn from our renowned faculty and fellow alumni, celebrate local food and drink, sing Cornell songs, and dance!”
Reunion 2021 will include special events, gatherings and celebrations for Reunion-year alumni spanning eight decades, as well as festivities, programming and content for the entire Cornell community.
“Reunion has always been about community,” said Kate Freyer, director of Reunion in AAD. “No matter how we celebrate, it takes a village – campus, community, volunteers, staff – all working together to bring the best of Cornell forward.
“Reunion is about togetherness – not only for four days in June but through community building over decades,” she said. “If there are silver linings to hosting Reunion 2021 virtually, the biggest is that we are strengthening the fabric of these connections by reaching many more alumni, family and friends than we ever could during an in-person Reunion. It’s a connection that has helped sustain us over the recent difficult months when so much has been different. Reunion in any form is really about coming home, wherever you are.”
Check the Reunion site as additional information and content is added in the coming weeks, as well as the Reunion FAQ, for updates.
Written by Joe Wilensky. This article also appears in the Cornell Chronicle.