The line to enter Hirst Lounge nearly stretched out the door as students poured into Wilson Commons on Wednesday, Jan. 29, waiting to participate in I Heart Rochester Day. In the lounge, volunteers in blue and yellow capes handed out free prizes. Balloons decorated the tables, and signs proclaimed the purpose of the event: to promote student and alumni support of the UR.

Stylized as “I <3 Rochester Day” or “I <3 UR,” it was broadcasted on the bright yellow Spirit Week posters all around campus. You might have seen your fellow students wearing t-shirts that said “I <3 UR.” In Hirst Lounge from noon to 3:00 p.m., hundreds of students took part in the festivities.

For some, I Heart Rochester Day was new and unfamiliar. There’s a good reason for that. “It is a new event to Spirit Week,” Assistant Director of Alumni Relations – Engagement Lauren Bradley said. In fact, 2014 is only the second time I Heart Rochester Day has been celebrated. According to Bradley, the idea for I Heart Rochester Day originated when she was at a national conference with UR’s student alumni ambassadors. They brought the idea back to Rochester in time for it to become a part of Spirit Week 2013. Since last year’s I Heart Rochester Day was a great success, Bradley worked with the 2017 class council to bring the tradition back for another year.

I Heart Rochester Day was made possible in large part by the 2017 Class Council, who plan other Spirit Week events as well. “It has been such a pleasure working with the 2017 Class Council,” Bradley said. “They’ve been extremely helpful with selecting the design of this year’s t-shirt and promoting the event to the student body.”

Speaking of t-shirts, the campus should be seeing an influx of “I <3 UR” apparel after Spirit Week. Free t-shirts were available in Wilson Commons –  they were distributed to the first 500 students who stopped by and wrote thank you notes to the University’s alumni donors. Students who attended were also encouraged to take a photo with a sign saying “I <3 Rochester because …” The pictures will be used in alumni newsletters and compiled in a photo album.

Students who were unable to make it to Wilson Commons on Wednesday may still have experienced the excitement of I Heart Rochester Day if they ran into one of the “Blue and Yellow Patrols” while walking to class. To promote school spirit throughout the day, members of the Freshman Class Council braved the cold and handed out gifts to students wearing UR clothing.

In addition to the on-campus component of I Heart Rochester Day, the Office of Alumni Relations coordinated an extensive social media campaign among University alumni on the Alumni Relations Office’s Twitter and Facebook pages as well as on the official UR Facebook page. Alumni were encouraged to tweet or post things they love about UR, using the hashtag #IHeartUR.

“Alumni from all over the world are going to be able to participate in the day via social media,” Bradley said. “Followers of the University on Facebook and Twitter will be encouraged to change their profile picture to the I Heart UR logo or share why they love the University in their status.” This approach should bolster alumni involvement even though most alumni will not be making the trip to campus for the festivities.

This year, for the first time, I Heart Rochester Day is working in tandem with the University’s Annual Giving Programs, a department that oversees gifts made by students, alumni, parents, patients, faculty, staff, and community partners on a yearly basis, according to Linda Gressell. I Heart Rochester Day is an opportunity to reach out to people and encourage them to support the school while also thanking current donors for their generosity.

This is an important goal, since the money from Annual Giving Programs goes toward the education of all students, even those who do not receive financial aid. “Tuition covers less than 85% of the actual cost to educate each student,” Gressell, Associate Director of Direct Marketing and Donor Participation for Annual Giving Programs, explained. “Annual fund gifts are a critical source of financial support to fill the gap.”

The Department of Annual Giving Programs was responsible for the idea for students to write thank-you notes to University donors as part of I Heart Rochester Day. Gressell hoped this would make students aware of how vital philanthropy is to the University’s mission. By visiting Wilson Commons on Wednesday and writing a note or taking a photo, students were able to show their appreciation for alumni donors and possibly even get inspired to support the University in the future. Gressell said that students’ donations are a very important part of the support the University receives, calling their participation “incredibly impressive.”

Bradley said it was exciting to see I Heart Rochester Day come back for a second year, even though budget restraints meant that the number of free t-shirts will only be half of what it was last year. “A successful I Heart Rochester Day to me would include having 500 or more thank you notes written by students to our alumni donors and seeing our t-shirts around campus throughout the semester.” Bradley said.

“There was a lot of standing in line, but it felt good to thank a first-time donor to the University,” Morgan Kath said, a sophomore who attended I Heart Rochester Day for the first time this year. “Maybe they’ll be encouraged to donate again.”

Passanisi is a member of the class of 2017. 

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