How popular is YAR?

Alumni Association focuses resources on recent graduates

Young Alumni Reunions, commonly known as YAR, attracts thousands of alumni from the four most recent graduated classes each fall. This Saturday night, the Alumni Association expects more than 3,000 young alumni to pack the Amphitheatre for the Homecomings event.

What is YAR?

Jess Hamilton, senior associate director of Young Alumni Programs, said YAR brings recently graduated students together prior to their fifth-year reunion. Similar to a class reunion, the event includes music, drinks and food.

“The purpose of YAR is really to give young alumni from the four most recently graduated classes a time to get together and reconnect with each other and reconnect with U.Va.,” Hamilton said.

By holding the event on a popular weekend such as Homecomings, the Alumni Association maximizes the number of alumni present at the event. Alumnus Donald Fryar, the class of 2016 Trustees vice president, said the importance of YAR is remembering the University as a home away from home.

“The biggest importance of YAR is really kind of reminding people that U.Va. is always home regardless if you graduate or you’re still a graduate student at the University,” Fryar said. “You graduate and you come back and you’re like wow, this is where I really defined myself, this is where I started to become the person I am today.”

Current Trustees President Patrick Rice, an Engineering student, said YAR draws on the special attachment students have to the University.

“There’s definitely such a sense of belonging here that people really want to tap into, even when they’re no longer a student,” Rice said.

Hamilton said YAR has undergone many changes over the years. When it began in 2006, the post-game Lawn barbeque attracted only a few hundred people. As the event expanded, it moved to the Lawn in front of Brooks Hall. On Saturday, the event will be held in the Amphitheatre for the fourth year in a row.

“In 2013, when we switched [YAR] over to its current location in the Amphitheatre, it really started to feel like the YAR event that people think of today,” Hamilton said.

Logistics of YAR

Like most other reunion events, YAR does not make a profit for the Alumni Association. Tickets cost only $20 on pre-sale and $25 at the door. As a result of these low prices, Hamilton said the Alumni Association ends up paying for about 25 percent of the event.

“Even though we’re spending money on the event as opposed to making it, we don’t really see it as a loss,” Hamilton said. “We see it as an investment in young alumni to kind of get them in the habit of coming back to Grounds and seeing each other and seeing U.Va.”

Alumnus Haider Arshad, the class of 2014 Trustees vice president, said by investing in young alumni, the University is more likely to see engagement from these same alumni later in life — whether in terms of financial donations or opportunities for future students.

“When a U.Va. student reaches out to you ... you’re more likely to take that phone call because you were just on Grounds,” Arshad said. “You just were able to see the University is very much the same as it was when you were a student and you can connect to those students.”

For the most recent graduates, connections to the University are the strongest. Hamilton said 40 percent of the class of 2015 returned for the event last year.

“That is reunion attendance like we see no other year and I think that’s because people who have most recently graduated are just really excited to get back to Grounds and feel like they’re still students at U.Va.,” Hamilton said.

The Alumni Association is hoping for similar numbers for the class of 2016. Fryar said the excitement for YAR among recent graduates stems from “hype.”

“The Young Alumni Reunion was not always referred to as YAR, it was referred to as Young Alumni Reunion,” Fryar said. “Now people ask: are you going to YAR? Are you going to YAR?”

Arshad said the level of excitement has evolved significantly, even since he was a student.

“As you’re graduating, everyone already has kind of circled that [YAR] date as when they’re coming back to Grounds because everyone else they know is coming back,” Arshad said.

Although excitement for YAR has increased since the creation of its catchy name and hashtag, Hamilton said the number of attendees has stabilized in recent years.

“The past couple of years, the attendance has been pretty stable,” Hamilton said. “I think every year it increases slightly, but nothing too significant over the past few years, which is actually a good thing because anyone who has ever seen the event knows that it is jam-packed into the amphitheater.”

Leading up to YAR, the Amphitheatre is on track to meet its 3,000-person benchmark. Hamilton said around 2,400 tickets had been sold as of last weekend, and she expects the number to keep growing up to the event.

Trustees' role

While YAR is entirely put on by the Alumni Association, the Trustees of the four most recently graduated classes play an important role.

A student’s role as a Trustee does not end when he graduates, since Trustees serve a six-year term. Alumnus Andrew Kwon, class of 2016 Trustees president, explained how Trustees promote engagement in the community even as alumni.

“Trustees, which stems from Class Councils, has worked each of our four years to create a sense of camaraderie and unity in our class that helps allow people to continue to stay active in our U.Va. community for a lifetime after graduating which helps to keep our University strong,” Kwon said in an email statement.

Through class Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, e-newsletters and alumni events across the country, over 200 Trustees try to convince their classmates to stay connected with the University.

However, for many Trustees, the most effective form of marketing is just keeping up with friends. Rice hopes he and his fellow Trustees can maintain friendships and connections to promote YAR for the next four years.

“My success in a post-graduate role will definitely be dependent on how involved everyone else stays,” Rice said. “So you could call me a chief motivator of sorts.”

Alumnus Sheridan Fuller, the class of 2013 Trustees president, said managing the other Trustees is about giving the necessary tools to passionate individuals.

“[Trustees] is a group of people who are excited about the opportunity to give back as alumni of the University and to create spaces for our classmates to get together and have fun ... At the same time, unlike when you’re on Class Council, once you’re an alumnus or alumnae, you are busy with work,” Fuller said. “So I think it’s also about finding ways to make it easy for people to promote the event.”

For many Trustees, especially those in leadership roles like Arshad, this weekend is an exciting one.

“[I’m] looking forward to being down there, seeing all my friends and loving, and just reliving, those days — the good ole days,” Arshad said.

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