Screenshots from the Virtual Alumnae Reunion on Friday and Saturday April 24-25, 2020. The Zoom sessions replaced the traditional Alumnae Reunion Weekend due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online Alumni Reunion is a virtual success

Apr 27, 2020
Brenau Staff
Brenau University continued its annual tradition of celebrating alumni with this year’s Virtual Alumni Reunion Weekend. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

We are Brenau University, and our future is bright.

That is the message alumni and friends of the university sent loud and clear for the world to hear as they gathered on the internet April 24-25 for Brenau’s Virtual Alumni Reunion, which took the place of the postponed Alumnae Reunion Weekend.

During a time of mass cancellations of public events and millions of Americans observing social-distancing measures, the event hosted by Brenau’s Office of Alumni and Constituent Engagement included opportunities to connect, catch up and share in some of the positive news during an otherwise challenging time.

The online celebration featured two Zoom sessions — a President’s Reception on Friday and Virtual Brunch on Saturday — along with an auction, slideshow, greeting from past May Queens and hat contest on Facebook.

Friday’s Zoom session featured a welcome by Director of Alumni & Constituent Engagement Ashley Carter, WC ’09, BU ’12, and a State of the University address and Q&A with President Anne Skleder. Carter also shared video performances by graduating senior musical theatre and acting major Olivia Pelton and freshman dance major Jonathan Thomas.

Skleder spoke on what Brenau has been doing in the past year, including moving forward with the Physician’s Assistant Studies program and entry-level Master of Science in Nursing, successfully launching the new Executive Women’s MBA and GOLD Program in The Women’s College, and welcoming a new theatre department chair. She also touched on some of the university’s local and international partnerships, including with China, the government of Panama and Lakeview Academy in Gainesville, and discussed the many ways Brenau is keeping in contact with current students while recruiting future Golden Tigers.

While the novel coronavirus changed how current students are learning and how events are being held, Skleder assured the alums that Brenau will continue to be successful.

“Brenau is strong; your alma mater is strong,” Skleder said. “The strength we’ve had for 141- plus years is going to create not only a surviving but a thriving university moving forward.”

Skleder also reminded attendees that Brenau remains open for business online, by email and by phone.

“Nothing is stopping at Brenau because of the COVID-19 situation,” she said. “We missed one week of classes transitioning to online learning. We didn’t miss a beat, and that’s because of our incredible faculty and a leadership team that supported them.”

Carter said one of the highlights during Friday’s session was the ability for everyone in attendance to hear the State of the University address from Skleder.

“Many alumni were able to participate and get to know Dr. Skleder a little better, some of whom would not have been able to come to campus and hear the presentation,” Carter said. “This was a great way to include all of our alumni near and far.”

As Friday’s session wrapped up, Board of Trustees Vice Chair Emmie Howard, WC ’01, addressed guests and surprised Skleder with a special gift to commemorate her first year — and first alumni reunion — as Brenau’s president.

“Brenau is a school that truly cares about its students,” Howard said. “Here, you aren’t just a number. You are an important part of the fabric of a 142-year-old institution that, as Dr. Skleder said, is going to be here for another 142 years.”

“Brenau is strong; your alma mater is strong,” Skleder said. “The strength we’ve had for 141- plus years is going to create not only a surviving but a thriving university moving forward”

As Skleder opened the gift — a golden tiger pendant necklace mailed in advance of the reunion — Howard praised the president’s “sincere desire to promote education and the progress of Brenau, and most importantly, she has an incredible heart for others.”

On Saturday, the reunion continued with a GOLD Program update from Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women’s College at Brenau University, performances by freshman dance majors Tiffany Kovash and Tiffany Oltjeburns, and a toast from Skleder, who offered a special thank-you to the more than 3,000 Brenau health care graduates “contributing mightily to the challenges of today.”

Skleder also acknowledged award winners and trustees in attendance, and asked everyone to join her in raising a glass “to the future of Brenau and especially to the future of her students, a future that will be bright and a future that will always hold steadfast the Brenau Ideal.”

Alumni Association President Brooke Statham, WC ’00, said she loved the virtual reunion and enjoyed being able to see so many new faces.

“It was Alumnae Reunion Weekend but different, in a good way,” Statham said. “It felt very intimate. It was as though over 100 people came over to my house, and we all crawled up on the couch to catch up. There were alumni of all ages, from different countries, and some who were able to attend for the first time. It was truly amazing.”

Highlighting Saturday’s session was the announcement of the newest inductees into Brenau’s Alumni Hall of Fame, including two university trustees, Anna Jacobs, WC ’86, and Robin Smith Dudley, WC ’78, who were joined by Ute Meyer Neidermeier, WC ’94, BU ’95.

This year’s Alumni Award winners were also recognized, including Katie Barth Lutz, WC ’14, Young Alumna; Ken Blair, BU ’16, ’22, Professional Achievement; Dr. Glen Laman, BU ’90, Community Service; Rebecca Parker, A ’87, Academy Alumna; and Brenau Jacksonville Campus Director Alecia Webb, BU ’07, ’09, Service to Brenau.

In her award acceptance, Jacobs said she was grateful for the impact many Brenau women present during Saturday’s event have had on her life, including Dobkins and fellow trustees Shay Stafford and Howard. She also thanked her mother and former trustee Dotty Alexander, WC ’60, who was able to join the reunion from her home in Charlotte, North Carolina, and called her “the most influential person in my life.”

“I’m very honored,” Jacobs said. “I could not be more touched and more gratified with my associations and my Brenau love.”

Dudley also expressed her gratitude and spoke on how Brenau helped prepare her for a successful career in nursing, find a passion for philanthropy and become a leader.

“I am so thankful for the journey that I started on 45 years ago,” Dudley said. “What I didn’t realize was that I would somehow forever be connected to Brenau University. Brenau gave me an extraordinary opportunity to empower me as a woman.”

After receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback about the online reunion, Carter said this approach could have the markings of a new tradition alongside future on-campus events to include those unable to attend.

“I wasn’t sure how a virtual reunion would go, but I can say now without a doubt that it was a huge success,” Carter said. “The current situation has called for innovation in the way we engage with one another, and I think our virtual reunion was just what we all needed.”

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