A Virtual Reunion Offers Real Connections

Memories, Meeting for Worship, and… “The Thong Song”? Reunion 2021 was unique for a lot of reasons.

The weekend kicked off with the 50th Reunion gathering of the Class of 1971. Members of the class Zoomed in from locations that extended from the United Kingdom to Hawaii, all to discuss what they remembered from their years at Sidwell Friends, and how their education has echoed across their adult lives, with Head of School Bryan Garman and Upper School Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs Robbie Gross.

Living in DC in the 1970s was a tumultuous time, most notably because of the Vietnam War raging overseas and the continuing struggle for civil rights at home. The classmates remembered marching and protesting, and also holding a silent vigil at the White House; the alumni remembered how they enjoyed the support of the School’s faculty and administration.

“People at other area high schools wouldn’t believe it,” said Ann Yoklavich ’71. “Nobody else went to a high school that actually encouraged its students to go protest.”

The memories weren’t only of political activities, however. Gross showed off a picture of a 12-foot-by-18-foot geodesic dome that some students erected on campus for their senior project. (The dome no longer stands, and there was some discussion about why, precisely, it was built in the first place.) There were also reminiscences of the changing dress codes (alumnae remembered quite clearly being allowed to wear pants all year, instead of simply when it was cold outside), as well as fond remembrances of teachers and even fonder remembrances of typical high school hijinks.

It was class time again on Saturday as alumni from a variety of years joined virtual classes taught by current faculty. Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye taught “Language and Identity”; Director of Equity, Justice, and Community Natalie Randolph ’98 and Gross gave a taste of their current Upper School elective, “Metropolitan Policy and the DMV”; Susan Banker taught “English Class Revisited”; and Laura Barrosse-Antle showed a little bit of what it was like teaching over the past year with “The Pandemic Science Classroom.” The wide variety of classes had one thing in common—whether the alumni graduated five or 50 years ago, the spirit of curiosity and love of intellectual inquiry remains strong in those who have walked down the steps at Zartman House for graduation. A Meeting for Worship on Saturday afternoon focused on holding in the Light and remembering those alumni, faculty, and staff who have passed away.

On Saturday evening, classes met on Zoom to celebrate with just their classmates in individual gatherings. Many of the meetings, though, weren’t just ordinary Zoom sessions. Members of the Class of 1981, for example, used the Acapella app to create a cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” but the alumni changed the words to reflect the reality of the current situation: “We’ve shared times that we can’t erase/when I see all your smiles I’m right back in that place.” The Class of 2006 used Jamboard to create an interactive environment for their gathering. And the Class of 2001 was joined by some very special guests, thanks to Cameo, the service that allows people to hire celebrities to give custom greetings for special occasions.  

 “We wanted more than just another Zoom meeting; we wanted to create a fun and interactive experience,” said Melissa del Aguila ’01, a member of her class’s Reunion Planning Committee. “We went through dozens of celebrity candidates who were emblematic of our time in high school.”

The two celebrities who sent Cameos were Sisqó, the auteur behind the chart-topping 1999 hit “The Thong Song,” and reality television host Jerry Springer, both who sent well wishes to the class.

While on-campus visits are not currently possible, on Sunday alumni could take a virtual tour of the campus, thanks to a collection of 360-degree photos, which allowed people who may have not returned to the campus for decades to see the progress the School has made. In addition to current learning spaces, Garman led a special video tour of the Upton Street property, which will eventually be the home of the Upper School, as well as the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Center for Ethical Leadership. (Currently, some of the spaces are already serving as Upper School classrooms, enabling the de-densifying of the current Upper School building.)

“Though of course we wish we could be celebrating in person, the connection and camaraderie—even through a computer screen—has been palpable and inspiring,” said Director of Alumni Engagement Anna Wyeth. “This cohort of Reunion volunteers really went above and beyond to reach out to their classmates and make this milestone celebration special. We’re so grateful for everyone’s positivity and creative thinking.”

Reunion weekend always stretches across years, but this year it stretched across miles and time zones as well; alumni who perhaps couldn’t have made the trip to DC for an in-person Reunion could now just as easily attend as those who stayed close to home. As the Class of 1981 sang, “We’re virtual, but we’re together.”

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