Rising to the Occasion: Reunion 2020

Enjoy this special Reunion message from the sisters!

Virtual Reunion gatheringWe all hope the odd circumstances leading to the virtual Reunion of 2020 don’t occur again. But in the event they do, we know that Saint Mary’s women, as always, will rise to the occasion and make the best of any unique situation.

When the decision came in April that Reunion 2020 would have to be postponed, staff immediately set to work to devise an alternate plan. Why not a virtual Reunion?” they thought. If we can’t be together physically, we surely can—in this day and age—manage to connect digitally. And so a virtual Reunion was created, an event that won’t be soon forgotten, especially by the “0’s” and “5’s” who participated from their homes and gardens and wherever they found themselves to be.

Ten class years held hour-long sessions, or more, facilitated by Kara M. O’Leary ‘89, executive director of alumnae and college relations, Lexi Grady Haitsma ’17, associate director of alumnae relations, or Madeline Zuniga ’16, former assistant director of annual and reunion giving. 

“It was amazing,” said O’Leary. “There were alumnae who attended who probably would not have come to the physical Reunion because of distance or family obligations or other reasons. Each Reunion was so warm, heartfelt, and full of camaraderie.”

One alumna in Connecticut tuned in from her garden. Her classmates asked for a tour, so she walked around with her computer to show off her flowers and plants. Others introduced their dogs or cats to their classmates, and their children, too. It was as though they were able to gain a glimpse into each other’s lives, a glimpse that would not have been afforded in a physical gathering.

“A good chunk of time was spent with alumnae asking about what was going on at Saint Mary’s,” O’Leary added. “They wanted to know if certain places in South Bend still existed and things like that. It was cool. Lexi and I were also able to give updates about the College today.”

The energy on the Zoom calls was palpable. “There was so much conversation and catching up, even for alumnae who might not know each other well. And a lot of laughter! Some women said they put on makeup and dressed up for the first time in months!” O’Leary said.

While Reunion 2020 was certainly different from those that attendees had previously participated in, the Class of 2015 had no such comparison. Here it was, their very first Reunion, and they couldn’t experience the joy of gathering back on campus and hugging their classmates.

Of course, a very popular event for each class was meeting President Katie Conboy. “There was so much energy with President Conboy’s sessions,” O’Leary said. “I was so impressed that the alumnae, right away, asked her, ‘What can we do to help you?’ They were reaching out, saying, ‘We’re here; tell us what you need.”

The College even managed to include the traditional educational sessions that are a part of Reunion weekend. Professor Catherine Pittman led attendees through a session on coping during the time of COVID; Associate Professor Pat Pierce discussed issues related to the 2020 election; and alumna Kimmi Martin Troy ’00 led participants through a yoga session.

Despite the circumstances of Reunion 2020, planning is already underway for the 2021 event for the “1’s” and “6’s.” But 2021will also serve as a “re-do” for the “0’s” and “5’s.” 

“A second weekend next June is being set aside for the ‘0’s’ and ‘5’s’ who missed out on being able to come back to campus,” O’Leary said. “They will have the full Reunion experience.”

She reflected, “I think attendance will be very good next year for these alumnae. I think people realize that you can’t take anything for granted. This unique situation will help them grow tighter as a group. The 2021 event will be all the more special because of what they went through together in 2020.

Golden—with a twist

President Katie Conboy online for virtual ReunionThe Class of 1970 had been working diligently for more than a year to plan for their golden Reunion in 2020. The disappointment that came when it began appearing as though a physical Reunion would not happen was felt deeply across the class. But Saint Mary’s women are not ones to wallow.

“Our goal was to replicate what our on-campus experience would be to the best of our ability,” said Karen McCarty ’70. Using survey tools and interaction among classmates, organizers pulled together an agenda that contained some of the highlights they would have experienced on-campus. More than 10 Zoom sessions were held, including multiple lounge sessions where classmates could hang out and reconnect. Over 60 classmates participated in the sessions that were hosted over three days.

“We received great feedback,” McCarty said. “Many classmates told us they were able to reconnect with each other. We now plan on offering Zoom sessions at least bimonthly to keep the momentum going until we can hopefully meet in person in June 2021!”