|by Jim Amidon • June 1, 2004|
Usually by now the banners have been taken down and put into storage, but not this year. This year the College debuts the Big Bash, a completely redesigned alumni reunion weekend for graduates from the 1930s through 1999. Ten classes will celebrate reunions, including the Class of 1954 celebrating its 50th.
As many of you know, Wabash previously split its reunions in half: the young alumni came back in the fall for Homecoming, while older classes came during Commencement weekend.
So, why change it this year?
Alumni Director Tom Runge has talked with hundreds of alumni, informally and in coordinated focus groups. Many suggested that it would be fun to have all reunions at one time, though that’s impossible during the school year because of space allocation. Others said at Homecoming and Commencement that graduates or football games were rightfully the top priorities, not the alumni back for reunions; it spread the staff too thin.
So Runge proposed bringing all reunion classes together for one big party on a weekend devoted entirely to them. The Class Agents—the alumni who serve as liaisons between graduates and the College—gave Runge the green light to try Big Bash for a period of a few years to determine whether or not it would fly.
Another thing you probably know is that Wabash alumni are traditionalists who don’t much like change (note the Gentleman’s Rule at a college for men with a strong fraternity system—all elements of a campus culture of decades ago).
Making drastic changes for something as important as class reunions was a bit of a step off the deep end for Runge and his staff of Mike Warren, Michele Tatar, and Heather Bazzani. Making the weekend seem different, while retaining those elements of past reunions that are important, was a significant challenge.
Bigger still was the challenge of getting alumni to buy it and show up.
We’ll find out by this Sunday afternoon if the gamble paid off. Alumni will begin showing up on Friday morning and will take part in more than two dozen events over the course of three days, all of which end with a Sunday awards brunch.
Judging by the number of RSVPs (over 330 folks so far), which Runge says exceeds the total from fall and spring of last year, alumni are excited about the change—or are at least willing to give it a try.
The best part is that the entire College will be available to the alumni, and key administrators will be able to devote 100 percent of their attention to the needs of the reunion classes. On paper it looks like a weekend of fun and excitement.
Among the highlights, all of which are open to the public, are "back to college" colloquium sessions driven mostly by alumni. However, legendary emeritus faculty who taught many of the returning graduates in class will reminisce about the good old days. Other topics include alumni involved in health care, community service, law enforcement, and trusteeship of the College. The Wabash web site details the entire list if you’re interested in attending.
The main event, aside from the reunion receptions and dinners, is the First Annual Alumni Chapel Sing competition on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. Each class will take to the Chapel steps to relive that grand Wabash tradition of singing the words to "Old Wabash." In the old days, freshmen who didn’t know all of the words to the song received a "W" haircut courtesy of the Sphinx Club. That won’t happen this year, but it should be an exciting and memorable event.
All of us at Wabash are bracing for Big Bash Weekend, and are anxious to welcome back the reunion classes of 1954, 1959, 1964, 1969, 1974, 1979, 1984, 1989, 1994, and 1999.