Looking back on the fall semester of my senior year, I can honestly say that I have never been more proud to be a Mustang. Though changes have been thrown at this University left and right, SMU has remained committed to providing the best student experience possible. One of the main ways I have seen that take shape is how the administration has had faith in students to continue hosting safe events and opportunities for the campus community to come together during these unprecedented times.

Over the past three years I had the privilege of serving in a wonderful student organization called Student Foundation. SF brings all of SMU’s traditional events to life on campus such as Family Weekend, Peruna Palooza, Homecoming, and Celebration of Lights. As I’m sure you can imagine, when the pandemic hit we were devastated about what the restrictions and everchanging circumstances would mean for our events. It wasn’t long until I and other leaders in SF had an epiphany. We realized that tradition is not about doing the same thing year after year, but rather is meant to unite the SMU community and help us grow stronger as a Mustang family. And the truth is, there are so many ways to do that! This set the tone for our year and was a driving force behind each event we put on last semester. Though SF’s events in 2020 did not look exactly like they have in the past, I want to share how a special tradition on campus started, but more importantly, how it continued to thrive even in the midst of a global pandemic.

Family Weekend is a campus tradition that is near and dear to my heart. This event dates back to 1973 and has featured events such as Boulevard barbeques, Mothers’ Club Luncheons, student talent shows, cultural events, exquisite receptions, and movie nights on Dallas Hall Lawn just to name a few! These events usually include an address from President Turner, delicious food, and incredible conversations among all types of SMU families and community members. There is something so special in the air throughout this weekend as students welcome their family and friends to their “home away from home”. It is at this point that families get a true sense of why their student loves SMU so much.

In a year when traveling was restricted, indoor receptions were unsafe, and large gatherings were prohibited, SF had to think outside the box. We were committed to delivering SMU families a quality Family Weekend experience, whether they were in Dallas or someplace else around the world. To kick off the weekend, we distributed “Game Day Goodie Bags” to students and families at the flagpole on Dallas Hall Lawn. Since SMU football game tickets were limited, this bag was full of merchandise families could use to show their SMU spirit throughout the weekend. It was a great way to boost morale and to share what other exciting events were happening throughout the weekend.

Our next program was a series of virtual information sessions put on by the different academic and student affairs departments titled “An Inside Look at SMU”. Families were invited to learn more about Greek life at SMU, study aboard programs, and so much more. And the best part is that they could join these sessions from anywhere!

One of my favorite events of the weekend was the “Reverse Care Package Packing Party”. Since many families were unable to travel to campus this year for Family Weekend, SF provided supplies and merchandise for students to send their families a care package from SMU. In classic assembly line fashion, students moved down the line, customizing their care package to include exciting items such as stationary, coasters, M&Ms, and even a custom postcard that included a picture of their student! Once the care package was just as the student wanted it, a member of SF taped it up, addressed it, and put it in the mail cart to be shipped! I loved the inclusive nature of this event, as every student felt as if they could take part in Family Weekend, even if their parents were unable to travel to campus.

After an exciting afternoon, it was time for “Night on the Lawn”. This outdoor concert consisted of live country music, an address from President Turner, Instagram worthy photo opportunities, and precious picnic blankets that families could take home as a souvenir. Additionally, there was a livestream of the event so that families could join in on the fun even if they were not on campus. This night was truly a dream come true! To see families safely gather on Dallas Hall Lawn to celebrate how special it is to be an SMU Mustang was truly incredible.

All in all, Family Weekend 2020 is one example of how tradition remains strong at SMU because of the commitment and perseverance of its students, faculty, staff, parents, and community members. There is a new found appreciation for being able to come together, whether that is in person or virtually, and I have no doubt that the events and ideas that were implemented this year will continue to positively shape the inclusivity of Family Weekends to come. The importance of our Mustang family has never been more clear, and it was such a privilege to get to share that with so many families throughout Family Weekend 2020!

 

Sophie Pasternak

Class of 2021