Homecoming from home: Avondale connects alumni online

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All Homecoming 2020 honour years, including the Class of 1970, held their reunions on Zoom.

Restricted from attending in person, alumni featured more personally and prominently as Avondale University College presented its 40th annual Homecoming entirely online for the first time.

Despite the coronavirus (COVID-19) limiting gatherings and movement, more alumni and from more diverse locations connected with their classmates on the August 21-22 weekend.

Take Zelma Edwards, for example. Invited to choose a favourite for host Dr Lyell Heise to play during Praise Hymn on Friday, the graduate of 1950 supplied a video with her recommendation and watched the live stream on Facebook from Maryland, USA. “She’s a friend and musical mentor but I’d lost touch,” says Dr Heise, who underestimated the nonagenarian’s resourcefulness. “So, it surprised me to find she’d lined up her pastor to record her playing the organ just as she does every week when church meets. She then rose at 5am to join the live stream, even commenting on the chat to thank us for playing her favourite hymn.” Dr Heise also received other video recommendations, including one—courtesy of the Avondale Lifestyle Community chaplain—from Fern Butler, who graduated 80 years ago.

Part of the appeal of Praise Hymn, presented by Dr Heise in his role as director of the Institute of Worship, is its level of audience engagement. The live stream enabled measurement of that this year—with 6500 users reached, 1400 post clicks and 1500 reactions, comments and shares, it is more popular than any other post on the Avondale Alumni Facebook page.

With the ubiquitous use of Zoom, particularly for work and worship, alumni seemed comfortable using the videoconference platform to connect with their classmates in honour year reunions on Saturday. The early- to mid-afternoon times suited not only those in the southern but the northern hemisphere, too.

Campfire Songs with Peter Dixon followed in the evening, with the live stream continuing a more than 40-year tradition of the guitarist performing on campus. Earlier in the day, alumni watched on YouTube the Homecoming worship service produced by Avondale College Seventh-day Adventist Church. The service featured a message—“Church: Dealing with disruption”—from Chancellor Pastor Glenn Townend and an item from the Avondale Virtual Singers.

Awards

Avondale Alumni posted content on its Homecoming homepage and Facebook page each hour from 9am on Friday and from 7am on Saturday. The content included a digital Homecoming magazine and, in a well-received initiative, interviews recorded on Zoom with award and citation recipients. “Who they are is just as important as what they’ve done but harder to convey in writing,” says Alumni Relations officer and Homecoming host Rachel Humphries. “Hearing the reasons behind life choices and the learnings from life experiences brings perspective and appreciation. Everyone has a story, and the stories come in all sorts of emotional packages, but they invariably connect us back to college, which made such an impact on our lives.”

Honouring Angela Saunders (1970) as Alumna of the Year recognises her commitment and contribution to understanding the role of food as medicine. A bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Loma Linda University began a career change within a decade of graduation. Experience as a clinical dietitian at Sydney Adventist Hospital paved the way for managing, over 12 years, the Nutrition and Dietetics Department. Completing a master’s in leadership and management at Avondale helped Saunders become better at her job. Now senior dietitian—Science and Advocacy at Sanitarium Health Food Company, Angela has published several book chapters and journal articles on vegetarian nutrition, her specialty area.

Classmate Dr Graham Stacey is Alumnus of the Year for a contribution to people care that addresses the interface of religion, psychology and ethics in contemporary culture. The former youth minister survived denominational turmoil by furthering his education before directing the Warburton Health Care Centre and the Psychological Services Training Clinic at Loma Linda University. A move into academia followed. He retired as an associate dean for Admissions and Student Affairs at Loma Linda. Dr Stacey has embraced the integration of his academic disciplines with a journey of faith. “Human beings are not one-dimensional—we’re wonderfully complex. Every source of information helps us better understand ourselves and each other.”

Young Alumnus of the Year Dr Joshua Page (2014) is a Junior Medical Officer for the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District. He completed a Doctor of Medicine through the University of Wollongong this past year and has an existing offer of employment for residency next year. During a gap year that coincided with a severe earthquake, he interned with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Nepal. His award is for providing compassionate service and for seeking to address issues of inequity in healthcare.

Citations

Eight other alumni received citations from their classmates in recognition of commitment to service and dedication to achieving personal goals:

  • Author and academic Dr Mary Trim (1950) for parlaying a love of literature into a ministry of teaching and learning;
  • Minister and teacher Bruce Johnston (1960) for sharing a message of health and happiness with those in his church and community;
  • Russell Woolley (1970) for a lifelong commitment to the ministry of teaching;
  • Chief Financial Officer Rodney Brady (1980) for a 40-year stewardship of Seventh-day Adventist finances;
  • Minister Pastor Errol Singer (1980) for his dedication to the local church;
  • Minister Pastor Lloyd Grolimund (1990) for a gospel conviction that demands commitment to the Great Commission;
  • Academic Dr Peta Hay (2000) for her advocacy of gifted students and dedication to improving their educational experience, and;
  • Neil Bustos (2010) for a love of teaching that makes a difference in the lives of his students.

The future?

The apparent success of an online-only Homecoming raises a question: how will Avondale present the event from next year? Vice-chancellor and president Professor Kevin Petrie reflected what is likely to be the prevailing view in his Homecoming editorial. Seeing classmates embrace or shake hands help make Homecoming what it is, he wrote. “As you connect electronically from a distance (and remember to unmute in your Zoom honour year reunions), know we look forward to having you back on campus in the near future.”

Responses from alumni suggest a significant online presence will be part of the new normal. “As if to remind us of the imperative we give our graduates to go, alumni from Africa, Europe, North America and the South Pacific connected with Homecoming this year,” says Humphries. “So, we were able to engage with many more that we did in person this past year. Elements of our online Homecoming are here to stay and will become another way for us to celebrate, commiserate, hope and heal together.”

Read and watch Homecoming 2020 content and register your interest for Homecoming 2021 at www.avondale.edu.au/homecoming.