IlliniFest to be held virtually on Sunday

The University of Illinois will host its second ever IlliniFest on Sunday evening at 7 pm, celebrating the university and its alumni with a virtual event on YouTube.

IlliniFest was held for the first time in Chicago’s Millennium Park on July 18, 2019. The University of Illinois claims more than 475,000 alumni across the world, one of the largest alumni bases in the U.S. With 200,000 alumni living and working in Chicago and its suburbs, the city was a natural location for the event. It was a smashing success.

“We were hoping to have a thousand or two thousand people. We had more than five thousand people show up,” said Andrea Darlas, Senior Director of Constituent Engagement at the University. “It was a wonderful event. It was so great that, at the time it ended, people wanted to keep going and talking and connecting and having a good time in beautiful Chicago in the summer.”

The event attracted past, present and future students, as well as their parents and university faculty and staff. Chancellor Robert Jones was in attendance, as was then-head football coach Lovie Smith and famous alumni like Chicago city clerk Anna Valencia, news personalities Ryan Baker, Jon Hansen and Dana Kozlov, and city aldermen. Current Illini basketball forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili was giving out dancing lessons at the event.

Building off the success of IlliniFest 2019, the university planned to hold it again in 2020, but COVID-19 and restrictions on in-person gatherings in Chicago resulted in IlliniFest 2020 being cancelled. The university was determined to hold IlliniFest in 2021, even if it wasn’t in person.

“With 2021 being a little shaky, we’re not sure what’s going to happen this year as far as large gatherings in Chicago,” Darlas said. “We decided to turn this into a virtual event. There’s going to be some wonderful surprises during the IlliniFest virtual celebration this year.”

The hour-long event will feature videos and presentations celebrating the university’s achievements in 2020, as well as the new buildings being constructed on campus and the athletics program, especially the basketball team’s recent success and the team’s imminent return to March Madness.

“2020 was a very challenging year, but as Chancellor Jones always said, we emerged as an Illini community resilient from that,” Darlas said. “Whether it was from our RapidVent ventilator, us creating hand sanitizer and PPE at the start of the pandemic, all the way up to our COVID-19 saliva test, which has been called the national standard. Folks are going to get a little preview of what we’ve been doing behind the scenes.”

Chancellor Jones will make an appearance during the event and so will new football head coach Bret Bielema, who Darlas said will have a surprise for the audience.

IlliniFest is free to attend and those who wish to attend IlliniFest on Sunday can RSVP here.

(Photo courtesy of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)