They were not going to be denied again.
Fifty years ago, the Final Exercises procession on the Lawn – perhaps the greatest rite of passage for University of Virginia students – was cancelled because of bad weather.
On Saturday, as the Class of 1968 gathered on Grounds for its 50th reunion, bad weather again forced a cancellation of formal plans for members of the class to, at long last, walk the Lawn.
The reunion attendees, though, did not need “formal.”
“We were determined we were going to walk the Lawn this year, if it were in hip boots and umbrellas,” said 1968 nursing graduate Suzanne Bowers, who lives in Staunton.
In a wonderful scene that demonstrates the power of reunion, the Class of 1968 walked the Lawn, weather notwithstanding.
“Fifty years late, but we managed it,” Bowers said. “It was great fun, and I don’t think any of us will ever forget it.”
Approximately 900 alumni, from classes celebrating on the five-year marks from 1958 to 1983, and 1,400 total attendees descended upon UVA’s Grounds for last weekend’s celebrations. They came from all over the commonwealth, country and world, including visitors from Australia.
“The weather kept us inside for many of our events, but overall spirits were high,” said Cate Liverman, director of reunions and class activities at the Alumni Association. “People had a great time.”
The fun will continue this weekend, as classes celebrating on the five-year marks from 1988 to 2013 will be in Charlottesville for their reunions. Liverman said the Alumni Association is expecting 2,200 alumni and 3,500 total attendees.
“We look forward to welcoming back more alumni and their families, and, hopefully, they bring the same energy as last week’s classes,” Liverman said.
This year’s reunion programming focused on the University’s bicentennial celebration and education about the history – and the future – of the University. Attendees will be able to visit “The University of Virginia in 100 Objects” exhibit at the Harrison Institute and Albert and Shirley Small Special Collection Library, for instance.
Other Reunions Weekend highlights include President Teresa A. Sullivan’s final reunion speeches before her tenure ends July 31 and a panel discussion, moderated by Risa Goluboff, the dean of the School of Law and chair of the Deans Working Group, on “August 11-12, 2017: Where Do We Go From Here?”
This year’s reunion classes also smashed the record for giving in a fiscal year, combining to pledge more than $87 million. That’s an increase of 26 percent from last year’s total of $68.7 million.
The graduates’ love for UVA was on display in the giving statistics, but also in special moments, like the Class of 1968’s determination to walk the lawn.
Fifty years ago, on a rainy weekend, Final Exercises were held at University Hall.
Bowers was on the Class Reunion Committee and, with other School of Nursing graduates, started a discussion about walking the Lawn during the 50th reunion. The idea spread to spouses of nursing graduates, some of whom graduated from other schools at UVA in 1968. Then, it kept spreading.
“It just kind of grew,” Bowers said. “Word kind of spread quickly. We were determined.”
After weather cancelled the formal plans, an informal gathering grew to about 50 alumni on the Lawn. When word of the informal gathering reached Alumni Hall, the Alumni Association quickly jumped into action, bringing the 1968 class banner.
Members of the class of 1968, denied their procession down the Lawn 50 years ago by rain and nearly threatened by rain again, seize their deserved moment @uva @uvareunions @uva_alumni pic.twitter.com/FbikdGG8pm— Andrew Joyner (@awjoyner) June 2, 2018
“We were here to help make that happen for them,” Liverman said. “It was a team effort between the alumni and the Alumni Association, and it happened.”
“It was very much appreciated,” Bowers said of the Alumni Association’s effort.
In the final special touch on the scene, a bagpipe player joined the front of the procession, leading the group to Old Cabell Hall while playing “Pomp and Circumstance.”
“When we realized he was there leading us, there wasn’t a dry eye,” Bowers said. “It was quite a thing.
“It was a time to unite again, 50 years later.”