Spreading the love. In 2013, the Offices of Alumni Relations, Annual Giving, and Stewardship launched a “Valentine’s Day” for the University called “I Heart Rochester Day.” During Spirit Week—the beginning of the spring semester—undergraduates write notes to thank first-time donors for being the gasoline to their burnin’ love for Rochester. A similar fall tradition, “UR Home,” encourages students to write notes in the spirit of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros to be shared in donors’ Meliora Weekend registration packets.
TAGsgiving. Mel Liora ’19 could run through and out of the Rush Rhees Library, high-five the Eastman statue and Gene Kelly around a lamp post, on his way to Todd Union, not knowing he passed more than 100 donor-supported objects. But not on Thank A Giver (TAG) Day. Launched in April 2015, TAG Day physically tags those lamp posts, spaces, buildings, and more to highlight what donors have done for the University and give students like Mel a chance to say thank you.
24 hours of contributing. There is no making the world “ever better” without the support of the University community—teamwork makes the dream work! A University that gives together grows together! Enter Day of Giving. Also launched in April 2015, Day of Giving encourages Rochester’s alumni, parents, faculty, staff, parents, and friends to make a gift of any size to anywhere at the University. Support is further shown on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram using #URMakingADifference. Adding #EverythingIsAWESOME is optional.
“For he’s our greatest benefactor…” On July 12, 1854 in Waterville, N.Y., Maria and George Washington Eastman had the most important Kodak moment—their son, George, was born. Every year, George’s birthday is celebrated by the University’s young alumni across the country. Members of the Young Alumni Council, and other volunteers, organize and host happy hours, allowing recently graduated members of the University community to get together and raise a glass to ol’ papa Eastman, a jolly generous fellow, which nobody can deny.
Smells like ’Jacket spirit. Where do University students go after graduation? “Where’s Rocky?” helps provide the answer. For anyone who has ever been tormented by the infuriating chaos and red herrings that hide Waldo, this is not a question to be feared. University mascot Rocky the yellowjacket simply poses—in card stock form—with students and alumni around the world. And for the alumni who found love as students, or later in life, they can add some Meliora to their wedding day with a UR pennant.
First-year fire. A “quad of fire” might sound like a part of a horrifying hellscape, but it’s just part of the University’s annual Candlelight Ceremony. Since 2008, incoming freshmen have surrounded the Eastman Quad with lit candles to learn about the University’s traditions, iconic symbols, and history. And a “fiery furnace” might sound like something from “The Burbs,” but it’s just a metaphor University Dean Paul Burgett ’68E, ’72E (MA), ’76E (PhD) has used for more than 30 years to inspire new classes of students.
The collegiate arts. Somewhere in the ethereal plane, Francis Scott Key is consoling T.T. Swinburne, Class of 1892. Like Key’s anthem for the U.S., only part of Swinburne’s original song for his alma mater is used today. The University only sings the first and third verse of “The Genesee.” In regard to the visual arts, many of the University’s painters can be found underground. Students have been painting the tunnels under the Eastman Quad since 1970. Today, most of the artwork is done to raise awareness for special events or causes.
There is a season, party, party, party. “It’s the [anything] of the school year! Let’s party!” Traditionally, this seems to be the attitude at the University. The school year kicks off with Yellowjacket Weekend. Then there’s homecoming: Meliora Weekend. Since 1934, December has been the time to celebrate boars choking on Aristotle. And more than 60 years ago, the University’s celebration for the end of classes looked a lot like the end of the movie “Grease.” Today, Dandelion Day features activities like live bands, paintball, and rock-climbing walls.
Like benefactor, like student. Joseph C. Wilson ’31 and George Eastman are the unofficial captains of the University of Rochester’s All-Time Super Engaged Rochester Volunteers Interested in Community Enrichment (SERVICE) All-Stars. Everyone knows that. It’s why every year students participate in Wilson Day and the George Eastman Day of Service—both are part of undergraduate orientation. Rooted in their respective namesake’s civic spirit, each day gives students the opportunity to engage in community improvement and outreach projects.
Burying “burying calc” and others. Like the calculus books that were ceremoniously destroyed and buried out of consuming hatred, several University traditions have been put to rest. Among these bygone customs are riding down the hill of Susan B. Anthony Halls on a lunch tray and a brutal contest—similar to capture the flag—that involved a greased pole and the use of rotten eggs and manure as weapons. And there was even a time where yelling “Eighty-fi-yi-ki-yi-zip-boom-Ro-che-ster” was totally normal.
Let’s do this forever! In 2000, the University turned 150 years old and threw itself a four-day sesquicentennial blowout. We invited Robert Duvall, Joy Behar, this guy (he was big at the time), and all University alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends. There were reunion, family, and homecoming activities and fireworks. We had such a good time that we decided to do it every year (except the fireworks). Beginning in 2001, this celebration was called “Meliora Weekend.”
We’re kind of a big deal. Since SesquiFest 2000, as we referred to it in our web journal at the time, 82,148 people have come to our birthday/reunion weekend. Our best years: 2011—Attnd: +9,500, Bill Clinton (Our first president!); 2002—Attnd: +8900, Hillary Clinton (Our first first lady!) and Jon Stewart; 2012—Attnd: +6,500, Barbara Walters (Our first Barbara!).
Golden (and bluish) tickets. Meliora Weekend is always a little crazy, but in 2008, things really got out of hand. People, including Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert, were so eager to register for our party, they crashed our system. The first event sold out in 17 minutes. Last year, to give everyone a fair chance at tickets to the keynote event—and to give our servers a break—we successfully instituted a lottery system that continues to help us manage demand.
It takes an AAC. Saying that Meliora Weekend is a lot of work is like saying clamshell packaging is difficult to open. Not counting the preparation, between staff and students, running a weekend can take nearly 1,000 shifts or more than 3,300 hours. From beginning to end everyone in Advancement plays a role. If you’re not happy with that role, you might need to be nicer to Jenn Linton.
Weekend whys. According to post-Weekend surveys, the reasons people attend are mostly what you would think. Alumni come back to see their friends and classmates; students were split between watching performances from fellow classmates and family events; and parents voiced a need to make sure their students were doing more than playing quidditch. Our job is to welcome them back, ensure they have a positive experience, and maybe learn more about their connection with the University.
Beyond Meliora Weekend. Reunion is more than four days in October. Alumni who are in their reunion year receive year-long recognition. They are offered benefits such as discounted or free attendance to regional events (and identified by stickers on their nametags) and those who make a gift (or register for Meliora Weekend) are listed on the reunion website. Meliora Weekend is the culmination of a very special year, highlighted by dinners, campus tours, “after hours” gatherings, and more!
Volunteers. Each year, we receive help from a huge number of reunion volunteers. This year, for Meliora Weekend alone, we have 246 helping to drive attendance. Volunteers also encourage classmates to support class gift campaigns; they provide feedback and share ideas on reunion events; they provide giving testimonials; they host gatherings for classmates in their regions; and much more. Jerry Gardner ’58, ’65 (MA), P’96 is this year’s national reunion chair.
Class gift campaigns. Reunion is an excellent opportunity to engage with prospective donors and increase giving levels of current donors—especially for classes participating in a giving challenge. This year, the 20th, 25th, 50th, and Post-50th Classes are all involved in reunion giving challenges, which have proven to be very successful as motivators for new George Eastman Circle memberships and other new commitments that support The Meliora Challenge.
The big 5-0. This reunion milestone garners the largest attendance percentage for most classes. Each year, the class celebrating their 50th reunion is recognized by the University with a medallion presented by President Seligman. Another cherished keepsake is the class memory book to which alumni submit current photos of themselves, favorite memories, updates on what they are doing now, and much more. The memory book for 2013 contained 220 entries.
#socialmedia. The best resource for alumni to find out about classmates who are coming back, events, gift campaign progress, and donor lists is the Reunion website. However, most reunion classes have a Facebook group, and this year, we are promoting reunion on the Alumni Relations Facebook page (/URAlumniRelations),Twitter (@UofR) and other social media platforms using #meliora.