Alumni from the class of 1990 and 1991 catch up with one another during the 30th reunion class dinner.
Alumni from the class of 1990 and 1991 catch up with one another during the 30th reunion class dinner.

       

Grinnell alumni embrace atypical virtual format for Reunion 20/21

John Wanninger ’95 has performed as a DJ before at Harris Parties both as a student and as an alumnus during past Reunions. However deejaying a virtual Harris dance party was a novel concept.

“Even the day of the Harris Party I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work,” Wanninger says. “But it was way more successful than I thought. I was very pleasantly surprised with how much people were dancing in their homes.”

Some variation of “this is more successful that I thought it would be” was a common utterance throughout Grinnell College Virtual Reunion 20/21, which was held via Zoom on June 3-10. While the first virtual reunion had many noticeable differences than the previous 140 in-person alumni reunion weekends, what didn’t change was the feeling of connectivity shared by classmates.

“No matter how it comes about, reconnecting rekindles a lot of the camaraderie in our class,” says Meghan McDoniel ’10. “We heard that all week.”

Due to the pandemic, Reunion 20/21 was reimagined for a virtual setting. More than 800 alumni took part in a week-long celebration full of programs designed by Reunion volunteers and College staff. Alumni from 61 different classes registered to attend, ranging from the class of 1945 to 2020.

Virtual Reunion got underway June 3 with a live broadcast of Virtual Alumni Assembly. The event included many familiar elements including the presentation of the 2020 and 2021 Alumni Awards, a College update from President Anne F. Harris, a performance by the Grinnell Singers, and appearances from special guests. Alumni and friends can watch or re-watch Alumni Assembly at their convenience.

Alumni award recipients accepted the awards via video and many thanked their classmates and talked about how the College impacted their lives.

Frances Gray ’71 and many other Alumni Awards recipients gave acceptance remarks as part of the Alumni Assembly video broadcast.
Frances Gray ’71 and many other Alumni Awards recipients gave acceptance remarks as part of the Alumni Assembly video broadcast.

“Grinnell is a great place,” said Frances Gray ’71. “Our years there were challenging, and it was there I learned to be a lifelong learner. Grinnell allowed me to spread my academic wings, and at graduation I felt like I could tackle just about anything.”

“I am of course honored to receive an Alumni Award, but I’m also pretty self-conscious because I know there are so many other Grinnellians equally worthy of this recognition,” said Joel Shapiro ’89. “I guess that’s what makes it so special. I know that Grinnell College is a place that doesn’t just talk about values; the College actually encourages students and inspires them to pursue values. Grinnell also finds it important to recognize people that are actually out in the world accomplishing good things. In that regard, there is an abundance of riches.”

During Virtual Reunion, event attendees had a wide range of programing options. Alums learned about fiber crafts and chair dancing, and took part in yoga and guided mediations. They heard news and updates about College initiatives such as the Liberal Arts in Prison Program, Center for Careers, Life and Service (CLS), and Special Collections and Archives. There was a networking session and one about graduate school. Attendees also got the opportunity to visit with nine current or emeritus faculty members during virtual office hours.

Several alums completed a virtual 5K held June 4-6 by running, walking, kayaking, or even mowing their yard. Awards were given to several speedy alums as well as for the best route and best family participation. 

Alums took part in student-led campus tours or watched a number of pre-recorded campus tours. Several also added virtual Zoom backgrounds of campus and held up Grinnell signs and props during sessions.

There were also specific class gatherings throughout the week. The 5th Reunion cluster had a trivia night while the 10th Reunion cluster enjoyed a blast from the past with a Pub Quiz. The 25th Reunion and 30th Reunion had class dinners where alums brought their own food and drinks and caught up with one another. Likewise, the 70th Reunion class had a virtual gathering to visit with each other.  All classes came together for various receptions, the Pioneer Bookshop Fashion Show, and the Harris Party.

Sarah Burnell ’14, left, Sarah Purcell ’92, Nino Parker ’07, Andy Hamilton ’85, and Rachel Edwards Harvith '00 model some of the latest Grinnell gear during the Pioneer Bookshop Fashion Show.
Sarah Burnell ’14, left, Sarah Purcell ’92, Nino Parker ’07, Andy Hamilton ’85, and Rachel Edwards Harvith ’00 model some of the latest Grinnell gear during the Pioneer Bookshop Fashion Show.

More than 140 alums danced the evening away June 5 at the virtual shindig, which originated from the Harris Center on campus. Wanninger – whose day job is an English teacher at Lake Forest High School in Illinois – traveled to Grinnell to deejay this special event, and several College staff and community members were also on hand to dance.

“The audio we had in Harris was not ideal, but people at home said it sounded great,” Wanninger says. “People were dancing in their living rooms, kitchens, or wherever they were. Some people had their kids with them. The dancers at Harris were holding up signs, and wearing silly hats or glasses. They were revving up the crowd.”

Wanninger took a few song requests via Zoom chat. He also programmed a playlist of the most popular songs when he was a student DJ from 1992-1995. “A lot of what we were listening to back then was alternative new wave, like New Order and Depeche Mode.” He also mixed in plenty of fan favorites, including disco, hip-hop, and a variety of styles that cater to everyone.

Wanninger and McDoniel were two of the 176 volunteers who helped plan Virtual Reunion. Many Reunion Committees had to change plans several times due to the cancelation of Reunion last year and the shifting to an online format this year. McDoniel says the 10th year planning started in 2019, so it was nice to finally have a class get-together.

Sophie Jackson ’22 talks about student opportunities during the Social Justice Learning at Grinnell event sponsored by the 10th Reunion group.
Sophie Jackson ’22 talks about student opportunities during the Social Justice Learning at Grinnell event sponsored by the 10th Reunion group.

“The Office of Development and Alumni Relations is grateful for the incredible efforts and flexibility of Reunion Committee volunteers,” says Paige Everly, an associate director of alumni and donor relations. “It’s been a long haul for many volunteers, but to see their classmates enjoying being together was extremely fulfilling. Thank you to all the volunteers and participants. We know this wasn’t what you are used to, but it was wonderful to see everyone embrace a virtual reunion experience and come together to celebrate our shared Grinnell community.”

Wanninger noted that the virtual format allowed alums to attend who had not been to an in-person reunion before.

“I do think people appreciated having it virtual rather than having it canceled a second time,” he says. “Obviously, it did not take the place of being in Grinnell. For many people – me included – Grinnell is a place that feels like home. I get giddy when I get to Exit 182 and pull off the interstate. That aspect was gone. But, I think people made the best of it.

“I do know it made people excited for an actual physical reunion,” he adds. “I feel like it will push more people to come to the next Reunion.”

— by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Several in-person reunions are being planned for coming years, staring with an event tentatively slated Oct. 21-24 for the recent 50th reunion classes (1970 and 1971), the 55th reunion classes (1965 and 1966), the 65th reunion classes (1954-1958) and the 70th reunion (1951).

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.