Western Virtual Homecoming reaching global alumni audience

On a weekend where campus would typically be packed, Western University is a ghost town. 

"We probably would have 10,000 people come to our in-person homecoming activities," says Tyler Forkes, executive director of Alumni Relations at Western University. 

However this year, due to COVID-19, they have been forced to take their celebrations online. 

"If there is a silver lining to going virtual is that it is extending our reach to our global alumni network," says Forkes. 

Tyler Forkes, Executive Director of Alumni Relations - October 17, 2020 (Brent Lale / CTV News)

"We have RSVP's from India, Hong Kong and around the world."

For 71 years, alumni have been flocking to London, Ont. to re-engage, catch a football game, or meet up with old friends and classmates. 

Ward Seven Councilor Josh Morgan is a Western University graduate who would have been spending this weekend in the stands catching the Mustangs game. He says the lack of in person activities is a blow to tourism. 

"This is just another example how COVID-19 as impacted business in our city," says Morgan. 

"Normally this would be a weekend which business, tourism and Western would look forward to, but it doesn't have the same feel without the bodies here. I'm saying wear purple, go buy some stuff in the city and help make up for some of the slack."

On a typical homecoming Saturday the parking lot at TD Stadium would be jammed with tailgaters, and there would be thousands of people inside watching the game. 

However, on a gorgeous day for football, the gate is locked. 

"Homecoming is more than just a football game," says Greg Marshall, the head coach of the Mustangs football team. 

"It's about the people and tradition. Western football is built on the alumni. We had a small alumni golf event Friday and we re-connected with some of the guys, but it's not as big as it would have been. 

The Alumni Association had virtual events planned all weekend, with the marquee event Saturday night. Western Stories and Songs is a two-hour, online video showpiece produced by alumnus and award-winning filmmaker David Mewa. 

All of the performers – from Canadian country star Genevieve Fisher to international hit-makers Loud Luxury – are Western alumni or, in the case of troubadour Rick McGhie, Western icons. 

"We'd much rather be celebrating in person and looking forward to doing that again but this is the next best things," says Forkes. 

"People can still show purple pride and be involved. So far the tremendous activity on social medial is letting us know they are checking in and celebrating in their own way."

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