Pivoting online: How Homecoming 2020 is coming together

It’s not September at UBC without Homecoming.

Yet, despite the disconnected nature of transitioning to online classes, Homecoming is here to stay.

Fred Lee, director of alumni engagement at UBC, described the event as a “cherished tradition that Alumni UBC and Athletics work very closely on every year.”

It is no secret that this year’s event looks a little different than past years, and even with a planning process that had its challenges, Lee believes that it is “really important that we continue to carry on this time-honoured tradition.”

The decision to go virtual came out of discussions held in the spring when other big events such as graduation and Imagine Day were reimagined. In the planning process, it was vital that a reimagined Homecoming would have to be effective at making those new to UBC feel like part of the community, but it also would have to live up to the expectation of students and alumni who had attended before. One of the big draws of Homecoming 2020 is its performers — this year’s headliner is Canadian singer-songwriter, Scott Helman.

When asked whether there had been any difficulty getting artists to sign on to the event because of its virtual nature, Lee found that artists were also finding ways to adapt to physical distancing measures.

“As we went into this lockdown we noticed a lot of artists were pivoting like the rest of us and many of them were performing online to their audiences, to their fans. And when it was time to decide about musical performances, which is always a key part of Homecoming ... we pretty much got an ‘absolutely’ right away.” Lee said

It’s also important to note that many of the performers, such as Missy D and Fraser Walters of The Tenors, are UBC alumni. Homecoming is supposed to be an event that reinforces that sense of pride from being part of the UBC community, long after graduation.

So how does an event that, as Lee suggests, “culminates at the big game,” work in an online setting?

For Lee, though we are unable to physically gather, Homecoming has figured out a way to stay connected and celebrate what is it that makes UBC’s community so great. With speakers such as President Santa Ono and VP Students Ainsley Carry, Lee hopes that a message of resilience in these hard times will “resonate through the show.”

Of course, the transition to online events has its share of challenges, especially with the struggle of learning how to incorporate technology. Though it was, as Lee describes it, “a huge undertaking,” the hard work has certainly paid off: the 45-minute show invites everyone to take in the celebration of coming together from the comfort of their homes. Lee attributes this to the many participants who “volunteer to chain together to put on this incredible ... show not only on the Vancouver campus but on the Okanagan campus.”

“I can’t say enough about the creative minds of our staff, our faculty, alumni, coaches, ... everyone played a huge role in giving up their time coming out of the campus or delivering ... their messages from home. It was a huge undertaking and I hope everyone will be pleased by the final result tomorrow when they see the show.” Lee said

If Friday night is inconvenient for anyone wishing to watch the show, a recorded version of Homecoming will be available online for two weeks after the event occurs.

When asked for any tips for others planning virtual events, Lee encouraged people “to continue as best they can to move forward with their programs.” He continued by saying, “know that this is not forever, and that, if it is of importance to you, do your best to carry forward in this new reality.”

In other words, if you are passionate about the event, and if you ask for support, there will be people willing to help you continue on with the event.

As many of us are already noticing the differences between in-person and online learning, it is important to focus on the positives. Maybe that means you don’t have to wait outside in the rain for your bus. Maybe it means getting to eat during class. Or maybe it simply means wearing comfy clothes in lecture.

Whatever this school year looks like for you, it is important to see the “opportunity in this challenge,” as Lee puts it, and to rise up and make the most out of this school year.

Although Homecoming this year is far from the outdoor celebration that we expected as Lee is trying, so are we.

The Virtual Celebration will be taking place at 7:00 p.m. PDT on September 25th with the Pre-Show starting at 6:30 p.m.