By Lily Vining || Layout Assistant
True Blue Weekend, held this year from October 15th through 17th, was more than just a reunion celebration and homecoming for students’ families; it was a demonstration that “campus is back,” according to Sara Getz, Associate Director of Alumni Relations.
Getz and her colleagues—Donna Pflum and Evan Birch, respective Director and Assistant Director of the department—sat down with The College Reporter to recap their experiences from True Blue Weekend 2021. Even after working tirelessly in the preparation, execution, and subsequent winding down from the whirlwind weekend, all three were eager to talk about the event, which they deemed incredibly successful. Pflum, who has been with the department for fourteen years, still feels a “great sense of accomplishment” to hear from alumni and families how much they enjoyed being back on campus. For some alumni, this is the first time in years, or even decades, that they have returned to F&M; for others, such as Henry “Hank” Eberle ’55, who return almost every year, the events of the weekend continued to live up to their expectations set by prior reunions.
For True Blue Weekend in 2020, the college organized around 50 remote programs. In contrast, this year the program boasted over 85 programs, along the lines of pre-pandemic weekends. Though Alumni Relations did not know what to expect for attendance given the recent rise in COVID-19 variants, they were overjoyed to welcome over 1200 alumni and family members to campus for the weekend’s events. In addition, students, not included in that total, came out in droves to attend events such as the football game, tailgate, concerts, and various affinity group meetings.
The image of students walking around their campus may seem ordinary, but for parents who have never experienced F&M before March 2020, it was an incredible spectacle. Though she works primarily with former Diplomats in Alumni relations, Pflum emphasizes how important it is to tailor the weekend for the enjoyment of parents and families as well. She hopes that parents of current students walk away knowing their students are receiving the best, not only in the classroom but in the community they inhabit at F&M. Getz shares one of the best responses she can hear from a parent: “It’s so great to see what my child experiences every day.” The trio agrees that these statements are the strongest motivators for their work.
Having school in session also contributes a vibrance to campus that many alumni expressed was lacking in previous reunion celebrations held during the summer recess. When reunions were held in June with few students or faculty present, returning graduates did not get to interact with the campus community. Now, alumni have the opportunity to relive their time at F&M, including interacting with present chapters of affinity groups to which they belonged in college, like Greek organizations, sports teams, and cultural groups. Having the chance to watch a sports game or see musical performances also allows alumni to visualize the ways in which their donations are making a difference to the campus community.
Combining parents’ and alumni weekends was also beneficial for families to experience a broader scope of programs than they would in a typical homecoming weekend. The school wanted them to feel that same energy that F&M alumni received. Pflum proudly notes that by combining the weekends into a True Blue celebration, they were “answering needs of alumni and giving the families even more.” She expects that reunion and homecoming will likely be the same weekend for the next several years, so all alumni classes can experience and give feedback about their experiences.
Though she mainly focused on celebrating the success of the weekend’s events in terms of feedback from its participants, Pflum believes the events were beneficial for alumni giving as well. Since this True Blue Weekend hosted the combined reunions of all class years ending in 0, 1, 5, and 6, the college engaged double the number of alumni of a normal reunion year. Reconnecting with graduates is critical to the success of the F&M’s fundraising efforts, especially during their great Now to Next campaign. Though the numbers for this year’s fundraising will not come out until January 2022, Pflum is confident that in building a lifetime relationship with graduates, they will continue giving their support to the school for many years to come. This is shown by the persistent support from generous donors who stepped up to fund their beloved alma mater even in the midst of the pandemic.
Birch notes that the conversation could not end without discussing one pivotal group: the 53 student volunteers who made his first True Blue Weekend a major success. Not only did the selfless golf carters who drove during torrential rain and the workers at various booths and tables give their time to the cause, but they also gained valuable experiences from their interactions. The connections formed between students and the alumni eager to share their stories from decades ago will last a lifetime—just like a shirt owned by the previously mentioned alumni Hank Eberle. He purchased this iconic piece of F&M when he was an undergrad over 65 years ago, and continues to wear it during True Blue Weekend, despite being held together by more duck tape than thread. People like him embody the truism that underlies True Blue Weekend: you are only here for four years as a student, but you will be part of the F&M community for a lifetime.
Lily Vining is a sophomore and is a layout assistant in the investigative section. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.