Homecoming 2022: Vanderbilt hosts first post-COVID-19 Reunion Weekend featuring Flo Milli and Boyz II Men

Vanderbilt hosted alumni from over 76 different graduating classes, raising over $138 million from those celebrating Reunion.

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Jaylan Sims

MSNBC’s Willie Geist and Chancellor Diermeier converse with the audience, as photographed on Oct. 7, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Jaylan Sims)

Jaylan Sims and Alison Winters

Vanderbilt hosted its annual homecoming and reunion festivities from Oct. 3-8 after two years of COVID-19-related cancellations. Homecoming week programming included Commodore Quake—headlined by rapper Flo Milli, a football game against Ole Miss, a three-day blood drive and several other events. 

The university announced at the Oct. 8 football game that it raised $138.8 million in donations from alumni in honor of Reunion. This amount was raised  over three years from the classes of 2020, 2021, and 2022. The university did not respond to requests for comment about the amount raised this year specifically. 

Alumni return to Vanderbilt

For some alumni, this homecoming was their first visit back to the university. Allison Ude (‘95) said that being back on campus since graduating has made her realize that Vanderbilt has changed drastically, both in terms of the physical campus and its selectivity.

“A lot of the buildings have changed; we have been walking around and have been really fascinated by how things look now,” Ude said. “I feel like it’s so much harder to get into now, and so it wasn’t really an option for our kids even to consider it.” 

Author and alumna Christina Geist (‘97) echoed this sentiment, adding that Vanderbilt did not always have a reputation for being as competitive as it is now. Admission rates decreased to 6.1% for the Class of 2026, an all-time low. This shift caused mixed reactions among current students, alumni and prospective families who want their students to share the same experiences they once did as Commodore. 

“I think the perception of Vanderbilt from afar has dramatically changed in the 25 years that we left,” Christina Geist said. “I used to have to say to people in Boston that I went to ‘Vanderbilt in Nashville,’ but now as the years have gone by, people know what Vanderbilt is.” 

Christina Geist was a political science major at Vanderbilt and actively involved with Vanderbilt’s chapter of Chi Omega Fraternity.

MSNBC Anchor and former Hustler editor Willie Geist echoed his wife’s sentiment, adding that the university’s prominence has changed since he graduated. 

“It’s such a national and international school now that its reputation has gone above its buildings,” Willie Geist said. 

Willie Geist also reminisced about his time at Vanderbilt and said that the university still feels familiar, despite its physical changes. 

“I remember all the buildings where we had our classes are still there; I remember Rand where we’d eat our meals and Sarratt where I’d go and write for the student newspaper in the basement,” Willie Geist said. “It’s physically changed a lot, and I mean, it should be: [It’s been] over 25 years since we left. But it all looks pretty familiar once you get past the visual.”

Willie Geist also moderated a conversation with Chancellor Daniel Diermeier as part of Reunion Weekend programming. Diermeier described his vision for the university by presenting a plan of action for university improvement involving alumni, university partnerships and student organization leaders. Diermeier believes this plan will improve Vanderbilt, adding that alumni help is needed to achieve it. 

“We want to be authentically ourselves; we do not want to look over our shoulders to see what others are doing,” Diermeier said. “We want to do what is right and appropriate in the right direction for Vanderbilt.” 

The event was opened up for alumni attendees to ask questions, along with a brief meet-and-greet with Diermeier shortly after. Willie Geist questioned Diermeier on his motives as Chancellor and what he has in store for the university’s future. He also offered alumni a brief look into his life before he became a broadcaster.

Following the conversation with Diermeier and Willie Geist, the Vanderbilt Bookstore hosted three alumni authors on Alumni Plaza, who showcased their work to alumni and current students. Christina Geist was invited to promote three of her new children’s books and spoke with current students and alumni about how to get their literary work seen.

“I think when you’re a first-time author, just trying to figure out how that process works and understand the industry and publishing and how to get your book in front of someone, that feels like a huge mystery when you’re trying to develop a story,” Geist said. 

Author of “Perseverance Through Severe DysfunctionReggie Ford (‘14) is a former Vanderbilt football player who majored in economics and admitted to struggling with PTSD. Ford’s book is about the daily challenges he faces, emphasizing the importance of PTSD in the minds of minorities. He shared Ude and Willie and Christina Geist’s sentiments about Vanderbilt’s changing landscape.

“A lot has changed; seeing some of the new buildings, the architecture and meeting the new chancellor, you feel a different vibe, you feel a different energy brought to campus,” Ford said. “There are a lot of similar things still on campus, but I think that’s what you want when you come back home.” 

Vanderbilt Adjunct Professor of Leadership and Retired U.S. Navy Captain Barbara Bell Ed.D (‘18) was also invited to Alumni Plaza to discuss her book “Flight Lessons,” which she released on Feb. 22. “Flight Lessons” is a memoir that highlights the tribulations that Bell has experienced throughout her life and identifies ways that others can learn when wanting to “fly high.” 

Campus concerts: Flo Milli and Boyz II Men

Vanderbilt hosted Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris from the R&B Group Boyz II Men at Nissan Stadium on Oct. 6. The two Grammy award-winning artists performed an assortment of the group’s hit songs.

On the same day, rapper Tamia Monique Carter, who goes by the stage name “Flo Milli,” headlined the first Commodore Quake since 2019, an event hosted by the Vanderbilt Programming Board as part of Homecoming Week. This year’s event was held at the David Williams II Recreation and Wellness Center Field I due to current renovations at Memorial Gym.

Senior and VPB Music Group chair Will Rotondo-McCord said VPB chose Flo Milli as this year’s headliner due to her recent rise to fame on social media.

“We were just looking at people who are really hot right now and would be really good for a college audience,” Rotondo-McCord said. “Flo Milli’s getting super big on TikTok and that’s how a lot of people are listening to music now.”

Flo Milli rose to prominence in 2019 when her single “Beef FloMix” went viral on TikTok and climbed to the second spot in Spotify’s Viral 50 the same year. At the concert, Flo Milli performed this track and many of her older, viral hits, including “In the Party,” for over 900 Vanderbilt students. She also rapped “Roaring 20s” and “Conceited,” both of which are featured on her new album.

“I thought the event was a lot of fun,” sophomore Hannah Egozi said. “[Flo Milli] did a really good job at keeping the audience engaged and hyping up the crowd.”

While Commodore Quake was primarily advertised to undergraduate students, Rotondo-McCord expressed interest in expanding the event in the future.

“It’d be cool if it [Commodore Quake] was more ingrained in Homecoming by getting more alumni to come,” Rotondo-McCord said.

Blood drive

Photo of the community event space where the blood drive was held, as photographed on Oct. 3, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Jaylan Sims)
Photo of the community event space where the blood drive was held, as photographed on Oct. 3, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Jaylan Sims)

In partnership with VPB, the American Red Cross hosted a three-day blood drive event in the Community Event Space.

After a similar drive in 2021, VPB announced that Vanderbilt students saved 153 lives by donating blood. While it is yet to be announced how many lives were saved this year, the blood drive’s waiting room was continuously full of students waiting to donate. VPB offered a $20 free Amazon gift card to each student who donated blood to incentivize participation.

Greg Salkind, the American Red Cross’s senior account manager, emphasized the importance of young people donating blood. 

“Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. Blood cannot be manufactured; we get it from volunteer donors,” Salkind said. “Our largest section of our donor base is baby boomers, and they are starting to age out from being able to donate.”

Outstanding Senior Award and football game

Vanderbilt announced the outstanding senior during their University of Mississippi football game at First Bank stadium, as photographed on Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Keanani Afu)
Vanderbilt announced the outstanding senior during their University of Mississippi football game at First Bank stadium, as photographed on Oct. 8, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Keanani Afu)

Senior Blake Christiansen was named Vanderbilt’s Outstanding Senior at halftime during the Oct. 8 football game against Ole Miss. The student body voted for this year’s 20 candidates and the students underwent an interview process to determine the top 10 seniors.

“I feel like I’m still in shock even hours after it was announced. I never expected any of this to happen. I remember calling my mom after I interviewed telling her that there was no way I’d even make it to the Top 20,” Christiansen said. “I’m thankful for how wonderful of a process this has been. The people in Student Affairs and on the Homecoming committee were just the nicest people ever.”

Vanderbilt put up a good fight against Ole Miss—ending the half on top of the No. 9 Rebels, 20-17. After halftime, however, it all went downhill, with the Commodores only scoring once more and Ole Miss more than tripling their first-half score. Vanderbilt lost 52-28 to their largest home crowd this season.