The tradition of honoring alumni with awards each fall is taking a new twist at Eastern Mennonite School, with the emphasis moving to sharing — and celebrating — alumni stories, rather than presenting awards.
For nearly 30 years, the school has highlighted alumni at homecoming each fall in categories including lifetime service, alumnus of the year, and later, young alumnus and community engagement award. (See awardees from 1992 to 2020 here). The tradition will shift from an award focus to a story telling focus.
“Giving awards has served the school in helping to connect alumni, draw classmates to reunions, and highlight accomplishments and service,” notes Paul Leaman, head of school. But staff and alumni board leadership members agree that it’s time to re-frame the tradition.
Annette Loker ‘96, alumni board secretary, has observed the process of identifying and recognizing awardees for many years. “Sometimes people feel uncomfortable accepting an ‘award,’” she notes. “And it doesn’t feel right to hold some people’s ‘success’ — however you measure that — as above others. So I feel this is a healthy fresh approach for EMS at this time.”
“One thing the COVID-19 shut down taught us,” observed Leaman, “is that everyone’s role in keeping society functioning is ‘crucial.’ We celebrate alumni in all kinds of jobs and professions, as well as their family, church, and community involvement. I hope this will open up ways for us to hear alumni stories we might have otherwise missed.”
EMS will celebrate three alumni with class reunions at Homecoming on Oct. 16: Justin Weirich ‘06, doctor of osteopathic medicine in Fort Wayne, Ind., and John and Kathryn Fairfield, both class of ‘66.
EMS welcomes suggestions for stories of alumni, as well as former faculty and staff, to celebrate each fall. Submissions need not fit in a particular category as used in the past. The committee will review nominations early each year and finalize selections by May 15 for recognition the following fall. Complete the online form, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or write a letter to the Alumni Office, 801 Parkwood Drive, Harrisonburg, Va., 22801.