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Reunited at Homecoming & Reunion Weekend 2021

October 15, 2021
By Claire De Lisle M.B.A. ’21



This year’s Homecoming & Reunion Weekend was especially meaningful as the W&M community gathered on campus again after being apart for so long. Despite overcast and sometimes rainy weather, almost 3,000 alumni, parents, family, friends, faculty, staff and students participated in the weekend’s nearly 100 events.

On Friday afternoon, Oct. 8, the W&M Alumni Association (WMAA) officially welcomed everyone home to campus with the dedication of the Alumni House. The expansion, which was completed in 2020 and funded entirely by private support, more than doubles the size of this historic building to approximately 53,000 square feet. After the ceremony, alumni and friends had the opportunity to explore the new space, which will host a wide variety of WMAA, W&M and community events. 

“Just as the bricks are the foundation of this historic building, you, our alumni, are the foundation of all we do. This building is a testament to the important role our alumni play in the life of our university and how much we can achieve together,” said Marilyn W. Midyette ’75, chief executive officer of the WMAA. “We hope it will be your first stop on campus every time you return.”

This was the Class of 2020’s first Homecoming as alumni, and approximately 900 members of the class returned to campus for their in-person Commencement ceremonies, as well as beloved W&M graduation traditions like the walk across campus and candlelight ceremony. Read more about the Class of 2020’s in-person Commencement.

While reunions are always a highlight of Homecoming, this year they were double the fun with undergraduate classes with reunions in 2020 and 2021 celebrating together. On Friday night, classes with class years ending in 0 and 1, as well as the Classes of 1965 and 1966, enjoyed receptions in and around the Sunken Garden. On Saturday night, classes with class years ending in 5 and 6 and the Young Guarde (alumni within 10 years of graduation) also celebrated their reunions with food and merriment. (The 50th Reunions for the Classes of 1970, 1971 and 1972 will be celebrated in April 2022 as part of Traditions Weekend.)

During this Homecoming, the W&M community also came together to remember those who passed away since we last gathered for the ceremony in October 2019. On Friday evening, alumni, family and friends gathered in the Wren Courtyard for the annual Sunset Ceremony. More than 1,100 alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the university were recognized in the ceremony, which included choral performances from the W&M Choir, the lighting of memorial candles and the ringing of the Wren Bell. Watch the recording of the ceremony.

Saturday’s signature events kicked off with a special Presidential Conversation moderated by Director of the Office of Student Veteran Engagement Charlie Foster M.Ed. ’17. Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates ’65, L.H.D. ’98 and former Navy SEAL Team 2 Cmdr. Mike Hayes discussed the present and future of Afghanistan, battle- and boardroom-tested advice for leading with purpose and the role W&M can play in helping veterans transition to new leadership roles in civilian life. They also took questions from the audience. Read more about the Presidential Conversation.

“It ultimately comes down to service,” Hayes said. “We all serve in different ways. We all have different passions and abilities and interests, and one of my goals of writing the book ‘Never Enough’ was to help people that don’t know what service is quite as well, to help elevate the conversation to think about what meaning and purpose and service really is.”

The rainy weather Saturday did not dampen the spirits of tailgaters, who enjoyed food from local food truck favorites Matchsticks BBQ, Right on Time Mobile Diner, Dave’s al-a CART, Taste Good Authentic Jamaican Flavor and Sno-to-Go on the Sunken Garden and Slideways on the Alumni House Lawn. There were more tailgates to choose from than ever this year, with WMAA identity networks LatinX, the Crim Dell Association and the Hulon Willis Association hosting tailgates, as well as the Society of 1918 and the W&M Washington Center.

Spirits remained high as W&M defeated Albany on the football field, 31-24. Before the game, President Katherine Rowe awarded this year’s Homecoming Grand Marshal, Mrs. Hunter J. Smith ’51, L.H.D. ’18, the traditional silver plate in thanks for her many contributions to William & Mary’s campus and curriculum. Smith provided the lead gift for the Alumni House expansion, as well as transformational support for Zable Stadium, the Pi Beta Phi sorority house renovations, the Tribe Club, Freshman Seminars, Swem library, the Fund for William & Mary and the undergraduate program.

Departments, programs and student organizations throughout campus also held open houses and special events throughout the weekend, from concerts and a comedy show to outdoor yoga and the PhysicsFest physics carnival. The university also dedicated Hulon Willis Sr. Hall (formerly Taliaferro Hall), named in memory of Hulon L. Willis Sr. M.Ed. ’56, the first African-American student to enroll at William & Mary. See the full list of the weekend’s events.

To maintain the health and safety of our community and prevent the spread of COVID-19, most Homecoming events this year took place outside or in open-sided tents. In accordance with the Sept. 21 university masking policy, attendees were required to wear masks indoors, except when actively eating or drinking, and masking outdoors was encouraged in large gatherings when social distancing was not possible. Vaccination was also encouraged for all attendees.

In the final WMAA signature event of the weekend on Saturday night, alumni and friends danced the night away at the Saturday Night Bash to the music of fan-favorite party band “Attraction” — a joyful end to a busy weekend.

Homecoming & Reunion Weekend is made possible in part by the W&M Alumni Association Fund, which helps support signature events and the many other services and programs that connect W&M alumni with each other and their alma mater.

Thanks to all who participated! We look forward to seeing you next October for Homecoming & Reunion Weekend 2022.