Reunions Weekend Expected to Draw Record Crowds

June 3, 2009 — Gas prices are rising. Unemployment is, too. GM just declared bankruptcy. So, what's a Wahoo to do?

Come back to Charlottesville, of course.

A record gathering of up to 5,000 University of Virginia alumni and their family and friends are expected to flood Charlottesville this week for the annual Reunions Weekend. Early registration begins Thursday, with events beginning Friday morning.

"When things are troubled on the national scene, people look for things that are comfortable," said Jason Life, who heads the Reunions effort for the U.Va. Alumni Association. "And to many, Charlottesville and the University are that comfortable place."

Of course, comfort may not be all that alumni are seeking. "I think some of what is going on is the appeal of the networking-type activities that exist in Alumni Weekend," Life said, adding that for some, a long weekend at U.Va. may be an affordable vacation alternative to renting a beach house for a week.

As of Wednesday, 4,205 alumni and guests had already signed up – 27 percent more than had registered at the same time last year. Life guesses the final numbers may grow by another 800 people.

The event is designated as the official reunion weekends for alumni whose graduation years end in "4" or "9," a group that has traditionally shown up in large numbers when their turn in the five-year reunion cycle comes around, Life said. So far, 2,428 alumni from those years have registered.

Attendance is not limited to those graduates. It's typical for alumni from other classes to show up, and there are even "Reunions groupies" who come almost every year.

"We welcome anyone coming any year," Life said.

Attendance at Reunions Weekend has steadily climbed. The event began in the early 1990s, with a few classes being invited back during a fall football weekend. It shifted to a June weekend in the mid-'90s, and expanded to its current configuration in 1997 by inviting classes from five to 45 years past their graduation years.

The Alumni Association has also stepped up its marketing, segmenting invitations by interests and geography and increasing the number of alumni volunteers who participate in the planning and inviting. Organizers have specifically reached out to local alumni – for whom visiting the University again is no big deal – inviting them to at least attend Saturday night's class dinners.

For out-of-towners with children in tow, there are a variety of options for keeping the kids busy, including "Kids College" sessions for ages 5 to 16, "Cavalier Kids' Day" at the Aquatic & Fitness Center, a Kids' Carnival at Madison Bowl, and a movie screening on Saturday night.

For the adults, the big draw has always been the Saturday night class dinners and band parties, and this year should be no exception. Featured bands include Bill Deal's Rhondels, Big Swing and the Ballroom Blasters, The Skip Castro Band and The Breakfast Club.

U.Va. President John T. Casteen III, along with vice presidents and deans, will welcome alumni and discuss the state of the University at an Opening Convocation Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, attendees can chose from eight sessions of seminars on a huge variety of topics, including all things U.Va., careers, parenting, music, genealogy, sustainability, technology, health, science and research. A Friday afternoon wine festival in Newcomb Hall is among the events that are already sold out.

Various on- and off-Grounds tours and open houses are planned, plus receptions for any number of interest groups ranging from Greek houses to Rodman Scholars to Christian fellowships to the Serpentine Society, an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender alumni.

Individual schools will host luncheons on Saturday.

For the athletically inclined, a golf tournament will be held on Friday and the annual "Stumblefoot Derby Reunion Race" on Saturday morning.

Though "several hundred" attendees will be staying in on-Grounds housing, including the Lawn, Brown College and the Lambeth Field Apartments, the weekend will be a boon to area hotels and restaurants, Life said.

"We haven't heard any outcry about the availability of hotel rooms," he said last week.

The event will require the services of hundreds of faculty and staff from U.Va. and the Alumni Association. Life particularly singled out Facilities Management as having been "incredibly helpful and accommodating."

— By Dan Heuchert