While physically gathering for Reunion was not possible this time around, a silver lining of this year’s virtual celebration was that alumni who may not typically make it back to campus – from as far away as Japan and New Zealand – were able to participate.
Nearly 10,500 Cornellian households joined Virtual Reunion 2020, June 5-6. Content has been viewed by alumni from six continents and 77 countries, from the Class of 1937 to the Class of 2020.
Members of the Class of 1945 even joined in, hosting a happy hour to reconnect with each other and toast to their 75th reunion.
Alums heard from university leadership, connected with classmates, sang the alma mater and took part in important conversations on racial justice in more than 100 online events. Although some events were exclusive for classes celebrating milestone years (class years ending in 0 or 5), many were open to the entire alumni community.
“I am proud to have the opportunity to use Virtual Reunion as a tool and a space for community, education and conversation around some incredibly important topics,” said Kate Freyer, director of Reunion and campus alumni engagement events in the division of Alumni Affairs and Development (AAD).
Cornelliana Night, always a popular Reunion event, translated well online. More than 2,000 Cornellians joined in, singing the alma mater and other Cornell songs.
Hosted by Michelle Vaeth ’98, associate vice president for alumni affairs, the program featured videos from past Cornelliana Nights, and two songs orchestrated for this year by Robert Isaacs, the Priscilla Browning Director of Choral Programs.
A tribute to the late President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes, by Ezra Cornell ’70, sparked a series of heartfelt comments from alumni tuning in from around the world.
In another segment, alumni shared their favorite campus spots – including video submissions from well-known Cornellians Bill Nye ’77, Kate Snow ’91 and Jimmy Smits, MFA ’82. And Dr. Anthony Fauci, M.D. ’66, expressed gratitude for the Weill Cornell Medicine Class of 2020 in a video message.
In a conversation with Vaeth, John W. Rawlins III ’06, president of the Cornell Black Alumni Association (CBAA), expressed gratitude to the CBAA and its board members for their leadership, and shared how alumni can help further conversations about racial justice.
“The conversations that we had today as part of Virtual Reunion have given me some glimpse of hope,” Rawlins said. “We talk often about how Cornell is ‘… any person … any study,’ and we want to make sure that our institution lives up to those values.”
College-specific events included the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’s Liberty Hyde Bailey Lecture: “Don’t Blame the Weatherperson,” where Art DeGaetano, director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center, moderated a discussion with several TV weather forecaster alums from around the country. They talked about climate change, how unpredictable weather forecasting can be, and how Cornell shaped their careers.
Karl Pillemer, the Hazel E. Reed Professor in the Department of Human Development, professor of gerontology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and senior associate dean for research and outreach in the College of Human Ecology, hosted a webinar about mending family rifts.
Pillemer launched the Cornell Estrangement and Reconciliation Project, an in-depth national survey of the causes and consequences of estrangement in the U.S. Pillemer found that successful reconciliations had shared characteristics: giving up on aligning the past; examining one’s own role; eliminating expectations; and setting clear boundaries.
Family-friendly events are a key part of Reunion: The Cornell Raptor Program hosted a live Q&A on hawks, owls and falcons; Cornell University Library showed how to build your own Lego model of Uris Hall; and Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, hosted a read-along of his new children’s book “Child of the Universe.”
And Cornell Trivia Game Show night, hosted by Corey Ryan Earle ’07, was a popular feature of Virtual Reunion, with more than 500 alumni tuning in from all over the world.
“My classmates and I were certainly grateful for the opportunity to connect at Virtual Reunion,” said volunteer Erica Healy-Kagan ’05, vice president of the Cornell Association of Class Officers (CACO) Diversity and Inclusion Committee. “I especially appreciated the events organized by the Cornell Black Alumni Association, Mosaic, and Alumni Affairs to educate and uplift one another.”
Many Reunion events were recorded and are available to view on demand.
Kaitlin Provost is a writer for Alumni Affairs and Development.