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Welcome to Virtual Parents' Weekend, Folks — Pants are Optional

Marybeth Bock, MPH


This is 2020, so I guess nothing at all should surprise me, but I found it rather amusing when I first heard that my son’s university was planning an all-virtual Parents’ Weekend for this October.

My initial thought, after yet another “Thanks for ruining something else, COVID!” was “How exactly can they pull THAT off?”

Because Parent and Family Weekends are all about the personal interactions, and they have become a big deal at most colleges over the past couple of decades. It’s basically a few days crammed full of lots of entertainment, when schools pull out all the stops to try to convince students’ parents that spending an obscene amount of money on tuition makes perfect sense. And most schools do a compelling job with winning over the skeptics.

There are normally activities for every family member’s tastes: football games, tailgate parties, student performances of every kind, academic lectures and presentations, museums to explore, and new people to meet, from your student’s friends, to those friends’ family members, to faculty and staff, and just friendly strangers in the hotel elevator, all with the commonality of that college, and usually all sporting the same colors and logos.

It has traditionally been a wonderful way to immerse yourself in your student’s home away from home, and to get a real feel for how they are adjusting to classes, the social scene and adulting.

But the adjusting this year will also be on us — the many parents who are saddened knowing we’re not going to be hugging our faraway kids, nor meeting their new friends and wandering around their campuses, eyeing beautiful buildings and cheering for their teams.

I am trying to adjust my focus onto the positives of the virtual experience.

And the first one is how much money we will be saving!

Many of us, in a normal year, easily spend over a thousand dollars on things like airfare, car rentals, hotel rooms and meals. Even if you are able to drive to your student’s campus, there’s still gas money, lodging and food to pay for — in addition to purchasing tickets for events and likely a trip to the student store for (more) gear and a grocery or Target run for items your kid will suddenly “need” while parents are there to foot the bill.

Another benefit to virtual events — the ability to experience more of what is offered.

In the past, we've had to pick and choose how to best spend our limited time on our kids’ campuses during Parent and Family weekend. There were always things I missed out on because I couldn’t be in two or three places at once. With virtual and recorded offerings, parents will be able to access more programming — and do that from the comfort of their couch.

Schools are unleashing amazingly creative activities for their 2020 virtual weekends.

Many schools are hosting virtual 5K Walks and Runs so that students and family members can participate from anywhere — together, or simultaneously from campus and from home. There will be plenty of faculty presentations; chats with university presidents and other administrators; virtual open houses for specific academic departments; student groups’ taped and live performances; college trivia contests covering campus history and traditions; recipe sharing, tailgate grocery lists and virtual meals; coloring sheets to download, enhance, and post online; and of course opportunities to purchase school merchandise at a special discount.

Here is just a sampling of what some schools around the country have already publicized:

At California State University Chico, family members can take part in a virtual tasting event hosted by local vintners and farmers by purchasing a tasting box in advance and interacting in a live discussion. Cheers to that clever thinking!

The University of Maryland will host a Family Weekend “Nailed It!” baking challenge. If you've ever seen this Netflix reality show, you know just how amusing this will end up being for the viewers.

Virginia Wesleyan University is offering prizes to family members and alumni who decorate their office in Marlin Pride and post pictures on social media, along with eSports competitions and a Chili Cook-Off.

Colorado State University is challenging students and alumni to participate in a Campus Photo Hunt by either snagging selfies at 10 spots around campus or posting pictures on social media from when a participant was a student there.

Kansas State University will host a virtual Family Day this Saturday, Sept. 12 and they are also offering a unique way to give back with their "FILL"-anthropy event. They are posting wish lists and giving pages for their Career Closet and Cat’s Cupboard, two student success initiatives that gather clothing, food and hygiene items to stock their campus food pantry and business/professional attire gifting closet.

The University of Dayton will be inviting participants ages 13 and up to show off their detective skills and register for an interactive virtual Murder Mystery experience, where everyone involved will play a part.

Murray State University is challenging participants to “recreate” an old family photo, with poses, outfits and facial expressions as close to the original as possible. Groups will try to gather the same family members who are in the original photo (or substitute their current Racer Family!) and video themselves getting into the same position as the original photo. Videos will be posted to their social media platforms with the tag #RacerFamilyRewind.

This week is Texas Christian University's virtual Horned Frog Family Week (replacing their traditional fall Family Weekend). Among other fun activities, family members and students can watch a free comedic conversation with actress Tiffany Haddish, and they can also upload a family photo — the school will replace the background with a TCU scene and return it so parents can feel like they actually visited campus. The school's event coordinators are thrilled with virtual participation so far: "We have almost 1,200 people on our email list who receive our content by email daily, plus our audience is tuning in through social media and directly through the website. Our reach seems to be more vast than an in-person event!"

So whether your college student is attending classes from the comfort of their bedroom at home, or from a dorm room several states away, embrace a virtual Family Weekend as an opportunity to learn more about their school, create a deeper connection to that community, save some money (which doesn’t happen often during the college years), and bond a little closer with your child.

And remember that a college Virtual Family Weekend 2020 t-shirt could likely be a collector’s item someday.

Image courtesy of Texas Christian University

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two college students and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as an Army wife, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing. You can find her work on multiple parenting sites.
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