That’s No Excuse! Countering Reunion Objections

For those whose reunion reservations are more logistical than psychological, here's how the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) can help:

Particularly for families and those coming from long distances, costs can be prohibitive. Michele Blanc, senior associate director of major reunions for the HAA, says: "Our goal is to get as many people as possible to come back. We regret that we can't help with transportation, but we can help with registration and housing costs." Most classes offer substantial fee reductions and financial aid to ensure that anyone who wants to attend can; classmates are encouraged to contact reunion coordinators (who will protect confidentiality) well in advance, because funds are limited. 

Children are another concern. It's not easy to take them out of school near the end of the year, and older students have stringent exam schedules, but Harvard goes to extremes to enable them to come, such as offering secure exam proctoring during the reunion. The major-reunion childcare program includes children from 18 months to 18 years, and offers a non-stop schedule of age-appropriate activities. Even the shyest, most reluctant kids report having a fabulous time meeting other kids and enjoying Red Sox games and whale-watching trips accompanied by exceptional student counselors while their parents are re-connecting with classmates.

Planners also aim to address special needs for children and adults alike: health, religious, dietary, and other restrictions are accommodated by the reunion coordinators and by Harvard's Office of Disabilities to every extent possible. Classmates come back on scooters, in wheelchairs, on crutches, on oxygen, and even during chemotherapy; Harvard Student Agencies offers refrigerators so that people can store insulin or special foods in their dorm rooms. Reunion menus are increasingly sensitive to nut allergies, lactose intolerance, and vegetarian/vegan diets. Don't assume your requirements will preclude attendance; it's at least worth finding out what's possible.

Some alumni assume (or fear) that reunions are just about fundraising. Alumni are not solicited because they come to a reunion. Statistically, people who go to reunions end up donating more regularly, but this should be no surprise: those who come back and rediscover the vitality of the University often decide to support Harvard and its mission.

Will the economy keep people away? Not likely, according to Philip Lovejoy, the HAA's deputy executive director. The economic downturn could, in fact, help remove one of the barriers that sometimes discourages people from coming back. In 2009, not having a job, or having recently lost one, is not a stigma. More classmates are likely to be "in transition" than the class reports, compiled months earlier, will reflect, given submission deadlines before the dark days of November; this is a good time to return to campus and talk to the many in the same boat.

"More than 1,500 alumni and current undergraduates from around the world gathered in 15 cities and four countries for an HAA-sponsored Global Networking Night last December 30, and another such event is planned worldwide for June 23," Lovejoy notes. "We're seeing an increased desire on the part of alumni to connect." So let your only reunion reservations be for your flight and a dorm room. 

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