Editor’s Note: During the pandemic of 2020, every mass gathering came to a screeching halt. Habits had to be changed, events got cancelled or postponed and plans were overturned. However, innovations were made, new solutions came to light and people all around the world rallied around the cause that concerned everybody on this planet. It did not come as a surprise then, that our alumni also rallied around the causes of their choices and found a way to celebrate, renew and strengthen their friendships and bonds amidst, but not hindered by, the coronavirus pandemic.
Three alumni from Year 8, 9 and 10, shared with us insights and emotions about their respective and virtual reunions. Read the story from the 40-year reunion here.
Year 8 Reunion by Han Chong Toh (Year 08/1983 Singapore)
Thank you Ymarú Josefina Arias Ramírez and Benoit Charlebois for 4 hours of taking us back to being 17 again! Thank you for bringing us back into that educational and social experiment where 200 students from over 60 countries come together at an isolated “Walden Pond.” Thank you for providing full scholarships to enable us to complete the challenging IB diploma and experiential education program; Thank you for bringing four different nationalities together four-to-a-room 24/7 for two years! could have easily become Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ or Sartre’s memorable line from No Exit ’Hell is other people’.
Instead, we learnt that education was a force for good, that all were equal regardless of creed, colour, class, culture, or country. I am inspired that many classmates are now leaders in civil society, addressing climate change, development medicine, education, social business, refugee and food security, racial, gender and economic inequality, local, national and international politics.
Back in 1983, the final farewell in the College’s parking lot was hard. Israelis and Palestinians hugged one another, cried, and said farewell. Khaled, our Palestinian refugee scholar, now runs a business in North America. Our Gal Gadot-like Israeli scholar, Tammy, returned home to become a tank commander. Today, she is a professor of law and history at Harvard University.
Thirty-six years after we left the College, reunited virtually, we shared so much, just like in the old days, including one’s pain, bereavement and life events.
The icing on the cake was, when our juniors – what we now call first-years – joined us, where Iggy Sison exclaimed, “OMG the girls in your year are so gorgeous now 😁!’ Zoom does no justice to their beauty”.
Little did we know in that final goodbye at the parking lot, that a technological revolution was on its way to to connect and reunite us again – email, WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Zoom. Like any school reunion, a very special bond.
Han Chong Toh
Year 9 Virtual Reunion by Iggy Sison (Year 9/1984, Philippines)
How do 48 classmates from 25 countries decide to get together with five days’ notice across five continents and multiple time zones? This is what we, Year 9, did last May 30, 2020 through our virtual reunion via Zoom. It was a lockdown experiment which turned out to be a very heartwarming homecoming.
Coincidentally, we gathered within the same week as when we left Pearson College UWC back in 1984 — on that unforgettable May 26th in College the parking lot. The timing of our reunion was not deliberate and seemed fortuitous through some tweak of fate. The coincidence was not lost on us, though. It was time to return home.
For two years, our relative isolation on campus allowed us to forge strong bonds. Fast forward 36 years later, we find ourselves isolated once again amidst the lockdown and we realize that we have our family and friends. The pandemic quarantine has paused our busy lives and silenced all the noise. Given the time to reflect, we appreciate what really matters.
One cannot compress nearly 40 years in 4-5 hours, but the reunion gave us the chance to reconnect with lifetime friends and renew lifelong bonds. It gave us the opportunity to rediscover our teenage buddies whose lives we were part of. Indeed, we felt like we were back home.
After the virtual gathering, we put together a 90-page reunion album which includes 58 KITs (Keep In Touch), including contributions from some who were not able to join, our “In Memoriam” for our departed classmates, and our marathon Zoom group chats. Everyone in our year is in the PowerPoint album, our modern day logbook. The day after this virtual reunion, we created our chat groups in Messenger, followed by WhatsApp, to enable us to carry on the conversation.
The reunion is not the end, but rather a renewal to keep in touch with each other. Through our reunion updates, we talked about our families, careers, passions and advocacies, and rediscovered several points of convergence that will allow us to do something together.
For a start, our reunion inspired our first-years (Year 10) and second years (Year 8) to hold their respective reunions within a fortnight of each other. About 10 of us in our year joined each of those two reunions at the tail end, thanks to Benoît Charlebois, Hanan Abdel Rahman- Rabbani and Imarú Arias Ramírez.
The conversation has already expanded and the prospects for collaboration have increased.
Year 10 reunion by Pierre-Olivier Colleye (Year 10/1985, Belgium)
Following on the experience of Year 9 a few weeks earlier, a group of Year 10 alumni organized a 35-year virtual reunion on June 13, 2020. With support from the school and social media in advertising the event, the videocall gathered 67 alumni from Australia to the West Coast of Canada, most of whom stayed online for the entire 5 ½ hours.
Many had prepared a PowerPoint slide with a quick personal update and family pictures. It was an opportunity for everyone to catch up, including participants who had not been able to attend previous, on campus, reunions since they left in 1985.
Feedback from participants was very enthusiastic. As one participant summarized, “there was an overwhelming sense at the end of the call of having found a place of extraordinary kindness, warmth and acceptance. There were no recriminations for losing contact, no blame for old slights (whether real, imagined or forgotten), no criticisms of any weaknesses. Rather, a group of relative strangers progressively bonded ever closer as the hours ticked by. Our formative, shared experiences and memories came back to life as each person spoke. I am sure everyone was, by turns, moved to tears and laughter as we heard of each other’s lives, loves, and losses. I had a profound sense of peace and homecoming at the end of the call, which has lasted ever since.”.
As another participant indicated, “hanging up at the end reminded me of the “parking lot” scene, but with the knowledge that there will be more of these reconnections.”
Organizers confirmed: “We are already looking into follow-up gatherings. Perhaps shorter ones, that are focused on specific topics such as Social Justice, Anti-Racism, Black Lives Matter, Peace, Conflict Resolution, Climate Justice, Women’s Rights.
“And just as some locations in the world had a standing monthly UWC gathering before COVID-19 appeared (e.g. Second Sunday at Six), we may also open a non-moderated online session on a regular basis where anyone available can come in, say hello, share a drink and catch up…. We will be following up with the class for ideas very shortly”.