Covid Couldn’t Stop Us!

Chancellor Kent Syverud stands with Emcee Don McPherson, Rachel Vassel and 2021 award recipients at the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence Award ceremony during Coming Back Together.

Coming Back Together breaks records despite pandemic

After a year marked by isolation, loss and social justice turmoil, a record 800 alumni and 200 registered students came together at Syracuse University for a joyous reunion, Coming Back Together (CBT) 2021.

“Keeping alumni healthy and safe was our top priority,” says Rachel Vassel ’91, associate vice president of multicultural advancement. “All of our social distancing and cleaning protocols were well worth it because we had no reports of anyone testing positive for COVID after CBT.”

Held Sept. 9-12, CBT 2021 featured a rich array of programming, including professional development and career workshops, an alumni basketball game and SU football game in the newly renovated Stadium, an alumni art show and mural project, special recognition of the  Syracuse 8, concert by 90s icons SWV, an epic tailgate on the Quad, after parties, worship and memorial services, and celebrity speakers including Rita Moreno, Joy Reid, our own Carmelo Anthony, and the cast of the television show A Different World, led by Darryl Bell ’85.

“The programming was absolutely phenomenal,” says Maliz Mahop ’15. “Given the uncertainty of the pandemic and the short amount of time the multicultural advancement team had to pull it together, it was amazing to have such premium content.”

As always, the highlight of the weekend for many was the presentation of the Chancellor’s Citation awards, followed by the Saturday night Gala. Alumni honored for their outstanding achievements included Victor Holman ’82, Felisha Legette-Jack ’89, Gezzer Ortega ’03, and Jacqueline Welch ’91. Jasmine Jordan-Christmas ’14 was awarded the first-ever Young Alumnus Award.

Because such a large group would be together in one space, the Gala was held outdoors, under a tent at Drumlins Country Club, and dubbed the Sneaker Ball. It was a magical evening filled with special moments. The focus was on support for the Our Time Has Come Scholarship program, and current and former OTHC Scholars provided living examples of the life-changing impact of alumni support.

“The Gala is always a bright spot because we are all in one space together and able to celebrate what we do to support our students,” says Vassel. “With everything going on in the world and all the choices our alumni have to support, it’s hugely special that they continue to care deeply about our students and supporting their needs.”

Vassel was thrilled to announce that the Office of Multicultural Advancement had surpassed its fundraising goal for the event, beating the goal of $1.2 million to raise $1.29 million. Instrumental in that success were efforts made by various alumni groups, most notably, Kappa Alpha Psi and Delta Sigma Theta (DST), for raising the largest endowments among sororities and fraternities, at $300,000 and $800,000 respectively, with DST announcing a commitment to raise $1 million for OTHC. Syracuse University Trustee Deryck Palmer ’78 announced the creation of a new scholarship in memory of fellow Kappa Jonathan Adewumi, a brother who attended Utica College but was well known to alumni as proprietor of a popular Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn. Dewumi died earlier this year from complications of COVID-19 at age 57.

The Gala also provided an opportunity to recognize the Syracuse 8 and to pay tribute to Robert Hill, creator of the CBT reunion and OTHC Scholarship program.

“It was a wonderful celebration, really the culmination of all of the hard work and fundraising over the past several years,” says Rosann Santos ’95, CBT 2021 co-chair. “And I enjoyed dressing up but getting to wear sneakers instead of uncomfortable high heels.”

“The feedback was extremely positive,” adds co-chair Fatimah Moody ’90. “We made this work despite the pandemic. The events were flawless, and our time together was special.”

By all accounts, the ability just to spend time together provided the X-factor for CBT 2021. “Many of our families were impacted by COVID,” says Miko Horn ’95, director of special events for multicultural advancement. “Just being able to lay eyes on each other or give each other a hug and say, ‘it’s good to see you’— that was extra meaningful this year.”

For a special thank you from the CBT student co-chair Cameron Joy Grey ’22 and Gabriel Prepetit ’22, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qhzgp4vx2EI. For in-depth coverage of CBT 2021, watch your mailboxes for the Winter 2021 issue of Syracuse Manuscript.