Since its inaugural celebration in 2013, Gonzaga Day has become one of the most highly anticipated events for members of the GU community to celebrate what it truly means to be a Zag.
Starting as a celebration for the university on the 125th year of its founding, Gonzaga Day has previously included a series of interactive activities, performances, challenges and impactful service opportunities to foster school spirit across the dedicated members of the GU community.
The initial event in 2013 featured live coverage from The Kennel to alumni across the world, and also marked the announcement of plans for the university’s John J. Hemmingson Center, which was completed two years later in 2015. Its initial success led to the continuation of the event as a way to honor the university (and its vast network of supporters) over the following seven years, with each year boasting a new and relevant theme.
And while the last year has been particularly tough on both the GU community and the world as a whole, the unprecedented circumstances will not stop GU’s Alumni Association from putting on the celebration in some capacity. In fact, in spite of the undoubtedly challenging obstacles brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the team is optimistic that the 2021 celebration will have a special and uniquely impactful significance on its audience.
“As we thought about the theme, we thought about how this is still a challenging time for so many,” said Kara Hertz, executive director of Alumni Relations. “Knowing that, we also were thinking about so much optimism and so much that is going well in the midst of this.”
Through considering the incredible resilience of the GU community and the inspiring success of both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, Hertz and her team decided that this year’s theme would be “Celebrate
Hope.” The mission behind this overarching topic is the desire to give the community the permission and encouragement to focus, even just for a day, on the good.
In this vein, a defining characteristic of this year’s celebration will be the inclusion of short videos (about 5-10 seconds in length) submitted by students, alumni, staff and members of the university’s Jesuit community in response to the prompt: “What are you celebrating, and what is bringing you hope?” The videos will be shared on social media and included in the event’s feature programming on the evening of March 11.
In addition to the compilation of community videos, the virtual event will feature an interview with famous GU alumni John Stockton ('84) and Laura Stockton ('19), as well as a subsequent interview with a surprise guest. All segments are available for those registered via live broadcast.
Those who registered were also able to submit written words of encouragement for student-athletes to be shared on-screen during the event in order to express appreciation and give thanks for the inspiration and hardwork of GU’s sports teams during such a trying time.
Additionally, Hertz and her team have worked to create the new Gonzaga Alumni & Friends app, a virtual program that allows those registered to follow along with the day’s events and to win prizes throughout the day.
Significantly, this year’s Gonzaga Day will also be the first to coincide with the Bay Area Trek event on March 11 and 12.
This event, sponsored by Alumni Relations and Career and Professional Development, is a two-day event available for student registration on GU’s ZagsIgnite platform.
“The idea of the Bay Area Trek is to give our students access to key employers, as well as alumni contacts in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco area,” said Erin Shields, director of alumni and employer engagement at GU.
While the program has taken place in-person during Spring Break over the past 13 years, this year’s programming will take place entirely virtual. Alumni working for companies such as Google, Facebook and Square will give Zoom presentations alongside key members and recruiters at their organization. Presentations will provide educational information about the culture of their corporate workplace and suggest opportunities for interested students, while a subsequent networking social will allow students to develop meaningful connections with potential employers.
“It is all in the spirit of Gonzaga Day and giving back, ” Shields said.
Gonzaga Day and the Bay Area Trek events, however, are not the only ways that the Alumni Association is working to foster school spirit and a sense of community this year.
Drew Rieder, GU’s director of regional chapters, has been working since last spring with his team of wide-ranging regional leaders to maintain Zag spirit in a time when in-person gatherings are not an option.
“It’s been a complicated year, and so we have had to continually shift gears since last March and really just try to figure out how to build community in a complex and trying time for Gonzaga, for the United States and for the world,” Rieder said.
These efforts have taken on many forms. In true “Zags-help-Zags” fashion, the chapters utilized online conferencing platforms like Zoom during the end of the 2020 spring semester to host a range of events from virtual meditation to the class of 2020 commencement.
As we moved into the 2020-2021 school year, Rieder and his team have utilized their connections with GU’s Kennel Club to create programs and events centered around serving and uniting the student body and alumni.
Rieder believes that hype around GU basketball, in particular, can be a focal point of hope. Alongside the efforts surrounding Gonzaga Day, the alumni association looks forward to a new series of virtual events surrounding the Zags. This will include pre-game events via Zoom, as well as utilization of the app Collyde, where Zag fans can chat, post pictures, exchange GIFs and answer trivia during games. All of these resources are offered via the GU alumni webpage.
“Everyone is excited to get back to more of the things we used to know, but until then we are trying to use the best virtual engagement that we can, and still connect in the community as Zags,” Rieder said.