For recent William & Mary graduates, 50 years from now might seem like the far distant future. But for many longtime alumni, a half-century has flown by.
The William & Mary Class of 1973 returned to campus the weekend of April 28-30 for its 50th reunion during Traditions Weekend, an annual event which brings together the Olde Guarde (alumni who graduated 50 years ago or more) and the Boyle Legacy Society (those who have included W&M in their estate plans) for special events and programs.
Alumni attended luncheons, presentations, tours and more, all while reconnecting with friends and classmates from their years at W&M. Each class that reaches its 50th reunion is inducted into the Olde Guarde, and members receive a medallion. It’s a weekend full of conversation and laughter, and an important occasion for many alumni.
This year, attendance was bolstered by a group of 1973 graduates nicknamed the “Facebook Divas” — Barbara Bounds Brown ’73, Libby Frazier Hixon ’73, Dede Miller Nelson ’73 and Joanie Spiegel Wachter ’73. Members of the 50th Reunion Committee, the four women set up a private Facebook group for their graduating class to promote Traditions Weekend, help alumni reconnect and share stories from times past. The Class of 1973 was one of the first to have a group of this kind, which led to a higher level of engagement among the 150-plus members of the private Facebook page before Traditions Weekend. That, along with the work by W&M staff, the reunion co-chairs and the entire committee, resulted in a high level of Traditions Weekend registrations, submissions to the 50th reunion yearbook (the Re-Echo), One Tribe One Day participation and class gift donations, Nelson explains.
At a reunion luncheon on Saturday, the Class of 1973 presented President Katherine A. Rowe with a check for more than $9.5 million, representing gifts from 45% of the class. Part of this total is designated for the Class of 1973 Internship and Applied Learning Endowment to provide support for internships and/or applied learning experiences for undergraduate students.
The group also kept an enormous emphasis on fostering community.
“We decided very early on that we were not going to be a fundraising page,” Wachter says. “We were going to just be communicating with friends and getting to know one another.”
Their work together was an enormous collaborative effort. The phrase “friendraising, not fundraising” became a mantra for the group. Their goal was to keep it as inclusive as possible, so that people who weren’t involved in sports or organizations such as sororities and fraternities would still feel welcome and valued.
“And I think we’ve done a pretty decent job with that,” Brown says proudly.
The friendship between Brown, Hixon, Nelson and Wachter also grew stronger during their time on the committee. Though they knew of each other in college thanks to some overlap in their social circles, it was during their hours of phone calls, text conversations and, of course, Zoom calls that they grew closer. Navigating social media sites can be confusing, so trying to serve as an administrator for a group is often a steep learning curve. The four of them would regularly remind each other, “We are William & Mary grads. We can figure this out!”
And figure it out they did. The group was a resounding success, and those returning for the reunion did so with a renewed excitement.
“The enthusiasm is contagious,” Wachter says, grinning. Brown agrees, recalling that “people would come back and say, ‘This is the greatest thing.’” Their enthusiasm reportedly helped persuade those who were on the fence about making the trek to Williamsburg, as did their willingness to explain what the weekend would entail. 157 members of their class attended the festivities.
As far as their own plans for the weekend, the Facebook Divas were most excited to reconnect with everyone and meet classmates they didn’t get to know as students.
“I can’t believe there were so many interesting people I never met, and I can’t wait to meet the rest of the class,” Hixon said before the reunion. “Because this is not 50 years ago, we’re very different people than we were. And I think we’re going to enjoy getting to know everybody there. Although I have to admit, I still expect to return to campus as a 22-year-old. And I know that’s not happening.”
With the amount of time and effort they’ve put into the Facebook group and acting as cheerleaders for the reunion, it’s no surprise that the four of them all care about giving back.
“William & Mary touched all of us,” Hixon says. Their goal for the weekend, then, was to ensure that no one left disappointed.
If the four of them are any example of how the weekend went, it was certainly a success.
After the reunion, Wachter reflected on her experience. “I loved everything about Traditions Weekend,” she says, citing especially that it was “a great treat” to see Brown, Hixon and Nelson in person after the months spent talking online. They were all able to reconnect, chat, learn and remember the feeling of camaraderie that comes with one’s graduating class. Contacts were exchanged, plans made and the Facebook group grew in size!
“It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Wachter adds.
Seeing how the weekend went was immensely fulfilling for their group. Nelson explains that “a true sense of community has developed among class members, and many comments specifically credit Facebook for helping to make this possible.”
“It takes the collaborative thoughts of four good friends to catch the important moments,” Brown adds. “We have each other’s backs” was a common refrain throughout the weekend, and the four felt it summed up the last 50 years well.
Traditions Weekend is special for all who get to experience it, and the hard work of the Facebook Divas made it all the more so. They offer their best wishes to their fellow classmates, and “would encourage every member of the Class of ’74 to get the date on the calendar right now, and if they are able, to attend Traditions Weekend next April 19-21.”