By Andrew Zobel Minnesota ‘14
At my desk, leg bouncing, I counted down the minutes until 5:30 p.m. A lonely Zoom lobby glowed on my desktop that would soon fill with 200 people — the best evening of quarantine entertainment a suggested donation can buy. Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 — the 169th anniversary of the founding of our beloved Fraternity. ‘Nervousness’ would be an understatement.
Leadership agreed that in-person Founders Day events would be canceled due to COVID-19.
My idea: “Do a Zoom-based event!” Keep it short, sweet and enticing to attend with a featured guest. My sights settled on Minnesota Golden Gopher football coach PJ Fleck. Everyone agreed that it had to be Coach Fleck or no event at all. No other guest speaker would match his appeal.
Scouring my Rolodex, I landed a University of Minnesota athletic department email! A polite message and hitting “send” was all to do.
Two weeks later, my leg bounced. I hit refresh on my Gmail, waiting for a response. A friendly follow up email? That did the trick, and soon talked to the Coach’s assistant on the phone. He asked about the event, our organization, and what we wanted from the Coach’s address. Most important, I told him, the organization would love to make a donation to the Coach’s charitable foundation. Success! Coach Fleck booked for a 30-minute address and Q&A session.
My euphoria settled. Now we needed to put together an entire event in less than a month. Undergraduates and alumni leadership mobilized like never before. Presidents of Minnesota Beta and our House Corporation wrote their addresses, Scholarship Advisors scheduled interviews, the alumni association president got the word out and drove sign-ups. Everything worked in perfect harmony. It was a symphony, and I – Leonard Bernstein.
I’ve planned events and found that a month of planning demands the laws of physics to attract more stress to event day than the previous 29 combined. The good news? Approximately 200 attendees forecasted. The bad news? I’m more technologically inept than your average millennial — and up against the myriad of unforeseeable technical issues that can arise in a webinar.
Such as: The password reset, and we couldn’t access the account hosting the event. We couldn’t even access the email list of attendees to send them a link for a new Zoom.
We were running out of options.
I called the president of Minnesota Beta and explained the predicament. “Everyone makes sacrifices for the good of the brotherhood, and your sacrifice is going to be sitting on hold with the university’s IT department,” I said. “No matter how long it takes.” I hung up with just enough time to brood over the debacle. I needed to finish slideshows, layer in Brother Ransom’s State of the Fraternity address and confirm with Coach Fleck’s assistant. As a CPA, I can say the weight of this bore on me like tax season.
“Crap, it is tax season; why couldn’t we have been founded in June?”
Time to execute.
The Zoom password issues resolved, and attendees trickled in. I directed them to their virtual happy hour … but realized it was an impossible task. I let the organized chaos unfold.
The formal programming ran until the now-infamous halftime raffle. A painstaking 20 minutes. I saw the interest level of our attendees plummeting. A merciful conclusion put us 15 minutes behind schedule with Coach Fleck to join in five minutes. The award ceremony still ahead. I messaged our Scholarship Advisor to start the five-minute countdown.
The Scholarship Advisor presented the most efficient awards ceremony ever. He even allowed recipients to unmute themselves and give an acceptance speech.
I’d dodged every landmine. So far.
We waited for the Coach to join our Zoom.
Large beads of sweat ran down my forehead that I hoped could not be seen through a web camera. My leg bounced. My mind raced…
Suddenly, a black box appeared on the Zoom checkerboard. It read “PJ”. A moment later, Coach PJ Fleck filled my screen. Relief washed over me. I told him to take it away and he gave a booming “Hello, Phi Kappa Psi!”
Few moments in life have rewarded me more than seeing every face brighten in the Zoom as he spoke. All the while, I received innumerable text messages from attendees, congratulating me on pulling this off (which I replied with ‘a team effort!’).
I thanked the Coach for his time. After clicking “End Meeting for All” I stared at my computer screen, reflecting on the past 90 minutes. Founders Day was the most important event of the year for me; a way to honor the past, celebrate the present, and look toward the future of our Fraternity. And we didn’t allow the pandemic to interrupt this sacred event we’ve celebrated for decades. At a time when our brothers needed connection and community more than ever, we gave it to them.