Each year a lot of planning, thought, and effort is put into the university’s homecoming event. It is a chance to bring alumni back to the campus. However, this year it had to be done differently. Due to COVID hitting in the spring, with no signs of letting up, there had to be a new plan put into action as to how exactly to carry out this event; Especially since those who plan this event reach out to Lakeland’s alumni with Homecoming plans in the summer. There was hope that perhaps it could just be held off till just a slightly later date.
“When the announcement from the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference (NACC) postponed all conference regular-season competitions and championships through the end of the calendar year, we knew the decision was made for us,” said Andrea Schmitz , director of alumni and annual giving.
First and foremost, the priority was that of the health and safety of the Lakeland community as a whole. “We made the difficult decision to cancel Homecoming in person. However, we still wanted to celebrate that day by having a day of social celebration,” Schmitz added.
Due to the change of pace from a traditional gathering, there were changes on how the interactions went about. Photos from past Homecoming weekends were posted, followed by asking the alumni and friends to share their photos and favorite memories. Some posts reaching over 20,000 people!
“The only regular event that we replicated was a University Update from Dr. Black. It is a popular event during Homecoming, where alumni are invited to listen to the President and leadership give updates about the campus and its initiatives,” Schmitz explained.
The alumni greatly enjoy and appreciate hearing from Dr. Black and were very pleased to see that this was part of the event that was able to go on as planned regardless of the circumstances.
Despite Homecoming not being an event that can be fully replicated or replaced by going virtual, Schmitz has noted that it gave a chance to the alumni population that is no longer living near campus therefore making attending this event more difficult. The virtual Homecoming gave these alumni a chance to take part in this event when other years they could not have.
“It is so incredibly important to keep our alumni engaged so they feel excited to give back by mentoring students, guest speaking at classes, sitting on university boards, and attending other events. Homecoming is a huge part of that success,” Schmitz said.
Although nothing can replace the actual face to face interactions, the hugs of old friends, and hearing laughter from stories shared, the virtual Homecoming did give something that could suffice for the time being.
“One thing is for certain; our campus community is anxiously waiting to bring them back home in 2021!” said Schmitz.