Staff members find creative ways to celebrate during COVID-19

By Kelly Montoya

Staff members find creative ways to celebrate during COVID-19

By Kelly Montoya
University of Miami personnel share their heartfelt experiences and provide tips on how to reimagine events to celebrate important milestones during this quarantine.

It all started with a group chat. 

“Everyone meet promptly at 5:30 p.m., and line up your cars by the parking lot next to my house,” instructed the texts sent out by Amanda Perez, staff member and University of Miami School of Communication graduate student, and her mother, Wendy Perez. 

“Bring your festive spirit, some balloons, signs, and honk when you’re close to the house!”

By 5:45 p.m., Perez's youngest sister, who thought her 15th birthday celebration was going to be a bust because of  COVID-19 social distancing measures, was completely caught by surprise and in “happy” tears when she heard and spotted the caravan celebration headed her way from a distance. 

“As each car drove by our house, Analiesa would get so excited to see who was inside. It was like a surprise over and over again,” explained Amanda Perez. “She got so emotional seeing her friends that she was used to seeing on a daily basis at school and her grandparents, who she's been wanting to hug for a while.” 

At 5:50 p.m., the entire Perez family was also in tears. 

“It was a very emotional and beautiful day to witness how happy my sister was when she saw all of her friends and family for the first time in more than a month,” said Perez. “Her 15th birthday was an important milestone, and I'm happy everyone was able to come together to make her feel special.” 

Even though we are living through a tough time, Perez believes it is important to continue celebrating milestones responsibly. 

“Now is the time when people begin to feel vulnerable, and it's important to keep your loved ones feeling uplifted,” she said. 

As Mother’s Day approaches, Alba Carreras-Vazquez, executive director of events in the Division of Development and Alumni Relations, stresses the importance of finding meaningful ways to continue celebrating life’s most precious moments. 

“Our friends and family stand with us through good times and, most importantly, in moments of challenge,” she said. “At times these milestones can bring on sadness or depression, especially when people know they can’t be around their loved ones, so we can come together to do something that brings them joy.   

“On a basic level, smiling triggers mood-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin,” Carreras-Vazquez pointed out. “On a broader level, events are both an opportunity to celebrate a milestone and an opportunity to look to where we are going as a family or community.” 

“At the University of Miami, we have long understood how technology helps bridge the gaps of space and time for our constituents,” she said. “Today we are fortunate to have resources like Zoom, Messenger, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Houseparty that make those far away feel close by. The beauty of these platforms is their ability to unite entire communities in one digital space.” 

As Carreras-Vazquez mentioned, right now, she’s most thankful for the ability to stay digitally social, which is the most popular and accessible way to celebrate personal and professional events. 

For those looking to add another creative element to the celebration she recommended tying a real-life experience, such as sending a care package, with your platform-based event. This brings something to the celebrants that they can touch and see. 

“For example, you can send the participants a celebratory T-shirt, hat, pin, or headband to wear during the virtual event,” Carreras-Vazquez said. “Another way to connect is to celebrate with a drive-by parade. Digitally gather those celebrating online—make signs, use hashtags. Those physically in the parade can decorate their vehicle and play a special song that all can sing during a shared moment.” 

Carreras-Vazquez along with colleagues across the division of Development and Alumni Relations have been able to pivot in-person events to online platforms, such as Canes Community gatherings, faculty series, expert panels, division-wide meetings, and the upcoming virtual medical commencement ceremony. 

“We are offering enhanced opportunities for meaningful digital content and engagement. Over the last six weeks we have launched digital games and multiple digital series including, Coffee With A ’Cane hosted weekly on Facebook Live, and a digital series entitled, In The Know. This series highlights our University of Miami and University of Miami Health System leadership as they discuss COVID-19 and related topics,” she explained. 

Event Professionals Network meetings have also been transitioned to Zoom, letting all event professionals across the U discuss happenings and share ideas. 

Carreras-Vazquez believes that in the future, all event professionals should include digital arrangements as part of their backup scenario.   

“Before this pandemic, we always had a plan A and a plan B specifically for outdoor events or events during hurricane season. Now we are adding a plan C for ways to navigate through the pandemic following the guidance of public health and government agencies,” she said. “As a planner, it helps to have strategies in place for various scenarios. This allows the leadership and our constituents to see that there are ways to continue to offer events even during this pandemic.” 

Carreras-Vazquez remains optimistic about the ways we are all coming together and what we’ll learn collectively through this experience. 

“The finish line is what you make of it,” she said. “Finishing a degree, a project, hitting a milestone, should be celebrated. Remember, this will pass, and we will come out of this stronger, wiser, and more creative.”