Photos by Evan Krape, Maria Errico and Lane McLaughlin June 10, 2019
11th annual Alumni Weekend brings back Blue Hens to celebrate
Editor's note: To watch a video about Alumni Weekend, click here.
It was easy for Shaleen Chapman, Class of 1989, to explain what drew her back to the University of Delaware campus to celebrate her 30th reunion as part of UD’s 11th annual Alumni Weekend.
“It's all about these two people,” Chapman said, pointing to her Alumni Weekend co-pilots and fellow Class of 1989 graduates, Shonda Greene and Tracy Scott.
As undergraduates on campus in the late ’80s, the three friends shared duets in the gospel choir and planned each other’s birthday celebrations. This past weekend, for the first time in 30 years, they were back on campus together, eating dinner on Main Street, taking photos with YoUDee and walking by their old residence halls.
“We said, ‘30 years — we need to come back and catch up with one another,’ ” Green said. “We still see each other often, but this is the first time all three of us have been back to campus and we've been looking at all the changes. This is where we all met. It was 30 years of celebrating our friendship.”
From Friday through Sunday, June 7-9, thousands of alumni, friends and families of all ages flocked to UD’s Newark campus for a weekend filled with memories, connections and Blue Hen fun. The weekend brought a mix of old favorites, like Double Dips for Double Dels (alumni married to alumni), Brunch with the Mascots and the Blue Hen 5K and Kids Fun Run, and new additions, like a farewell to the Christiana Towers and Warner Hall, and a fashion show and wine pairing.
“Alumni Weekend brings all our alumni and friends together to reminisce, explore and celebrate their special connection to UD,” said Lauren Murray Simione, Class of 1995 and associate vice president of alumni engagement and annual giving. “From Dela-bration to milestone reunions, spirit stations and campus tours, Alumni Weekend is an exciting time for all of our Blue Hens to reconnect with campus and strengthen their ties to the University. It’s one weekend they look forward to all year, and we look forward to having them back.”
For many alumni, the weekend festivities started Friday night with special receptions for colleges, departments and affinity groups, where alumni could see former classmates and professors, and chat with fellow alumni about shared experiences. Then, with many decked out in blue and gold attire, it was off to Dela-bration on The Green, where the band Jessie’s Girls kept the excitement going through the night for the outdoor party.
Although Debora Jarett, Class of 2004, arrived on campus Friday evening with plans to attend a milestone reunion and reunite with friends that she hadn’t seen on campus in a long time, she had a hard time believing 15 years had passed. But she was also proud to return, see former mentors and catch up on all that has happened since graduation.
“I got such a great start at UD and I was excited to come back and go to the [College of Education and Human Development] reception,” said Jarett, who has put her early childhood education degree to good use as a preschool teacher since graduating. “I actually saw my adviser, former professor and former peer mentor at the reception, so it was really nice to be able to reconnect with them and see how they’re doing and talk about where everyone else is.”
Whether celebrating a one-year reunion or a 50-year reunion, campus still feels like home to Blue Hens of all ages. John Cogan, Class of 2018, said he was eager to have fun with former classmates and meet others from various generations who shared his UD spirit. As soon as registration for Alumni Weekend opened, Cogan put the date on his calendar and made plans to return.
“The first day they emailed us I actually sent in my registration because I was like, ‘I have to do it,’ ” Cogan said. “And this is just a very easy justification to go back and be able to see friends who are like family. Being on campus is always a nice experience.”
Revisiting special places on campus was a strong draw for alumni. Standing outside Warner Hall on Saturday morning, Karen Butler, Class of 1989, took photos and thought back to the students she knew who once lived there. She served as hall director of Warner — soon to be decommissioned as a residence hall and turned into space for student health and wellness — and had many fond memories of “the women of Warner” who resided in the all-female residence hall.
“They were a very close-knit group,” Butler said. “The people that lived in Warner just loved being women of Warner. When I was here, we actually planned a tea party that we invited back residents from the ’40s and ’50s, and they told us all kinds of stories about living in Warner. There was a lot of pride in the building.”
But Butler has another, more important tie to Warner Hall — it’s where she met her husband, David, after a mutual friend set up the pair. They will celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary later this summer.
“We always make sure we see Warner Hall,” David said about their occasional campus visits. “We met each other there, so it's a very special place, even though I didn't go to school here.”
Sharing campus with family members was an important part of Alumni Weekend for Marcus Mazza, Class of 1984, who traveled from Brazil to attend Alumni Weekend. As a teenager, Mazza moved to the Newark area when his father’s work brought the family here. Then Mazza decided to attend UD for college and put down his own roots, joining the volleyball team and studying civil engineering.
“This is my first time bringing my son here, who is 18 years old, so he can see the campus and the school I went to,” Mazza said. “My favorite part about the weekend so far has been all the memories. So many memories, memories and memories.”
The weekend was also an opportunity to look forward and take in the changes and development happening on campus because of generosity through Delaware First: The Campaign for the University of Delaware. As Barbara Boyd, Class of 1979, noticed, the campus has dramatically evolved since she graduated.
“I haven’t been back in 40 years and I wanted to see what changes took place at the campus. The STAR Campus is spectacular,” Boyd said. “I was a high school teacher at Marine Academy of Science and Technology in New Jersey for 30 years, and I have sent many students this way. I wanted to come and see that what I recommended is still standing and I’m really impressed with STAR and the health sciences. That is a phenomenal area of campus right down to the train station and getting people around.”
Melissa Girnius, Class of 2004, and her family arrived Saturday morning with similar plans to explore campus.
Girnius and her two young children, Owen, 7, and Hannah, 4, started with a stop at the “Full STEAM Ahead” event for families and children of all ages hosted by the College of Education and Human Development outside the Willard Hall Education Building, where they created electrical circuits that light up. Then it was time for brunch with the mascots at Caesar Rodney Dining Hall, where they met YoUDee and Baby Blue, did face painting and played with balloon animals.
It was Girnius’ first Alumni Weekend, but perhaps not her last. She said she is thinking of coming back for her 20th reunion in a few years — and she might even be part of a growing family of Blue Hens.
“I've seen friends come in the past and, now that my kids are older, I decided to show them what it's all about,” Girnius said. “Hopefully, they'll remember having a lot of fun. They love YoUDee and Baby Blue, so I hope that leaves an impression so they come back and want to come here. I've been asking them all morning, ‘Do you like it? Are you going to come here?’ ”
If they do, they’ll be joining a proud and accomplished group. As Double Dels, Anne Biddle, Class of 1980, and Rick Biddle, Class of 1978, crossed The Green on Saturday wearing their blue-and-gold best, they reflected on the amazing alumni they were able to meet through UD and at Alumni Weekend.
“To be able to listen to those inspirational stories and the way that they give back to the people who launched them in their careers—the professors, roommates, friends and connections they made through the University of Delaware—that, for me, is the UD Alumni Weekend highlight,” Rick said.
With another weekend of memories packed away, Blue Hens look forward to the next special occasion that will bring them back to campus. Plans are already in place to begin discussions around upcoming milestone reunions for 2020, and alumni are encouraged to mark their calendars for the 12th annual Alumni Weekend, which will take place June 5-7, 2020.
For photos from the 11th annual Alumni Weekend, visit the UD in Photos galleries page.
About the Office of Development and Alumni Relations
The Office of Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) engages donors, alumni, friends, parents, faculty, staff and students in a lifelong relationship and fosters a tradition of philanthropy to strengthen the University of Delaware’s legacy as one of the great public institutions of higher education in America. For more information about DAR, visit the website.