Record crowd returns for a spirited Alumni Reunion Weekend

Sammy joins Amy Everitt (Stevenson '92, politics; past President of the Alumni Council) and family in newly acquired slug attire for a photo opportunity at the Reunion Weekend photo booth. Click here and here for more photos from the three days of events. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

UCSC’s annual Alumni Reunion Weekend was filled with sentimental, inspiring, and downright surreal moments.

Look no further than the 400 alumni who broke into a spirited performance of the Hokey Pokey during the Natural History Field Quarter reunion.

Or consider the woman from the class of 1972 who burst into the Cowell Dining Hall on Saturday and shouted, “Flashback!” at the top of her lungs.

More than 1,000 people signed up for the reunion events, including more than 700 alumni, setting an attendance record. The events had a wide emotional range, with alumni laughing over long-dormant good memories, reconnecting with professors, and congratulating the first winner of a scholarship dedicated to the memory of alumnus Gabriel Zimmerman.

The Natural History Field Quarter was a huge presence on reunion weekend, in part because 2012 marks the field quarter's 40th anniversary. Over half of the alumni who returned to campus that weekend are directly associated with NHFQ.  The Santa Cruz Sentinel and the San Jose Mercury News reported on the reunion event, in "As UCSC Natural History Field Quarter alumni gather for reunion, program faces uncertain future." The article discussed the work of Professors Kenneth Norris and Steven Gliessman. Alumni are also quoted in the article, recalling their adventures in Field Quarter and how the experience had influenced their lives and their career choices. 

Close to tears

Sometimes it felt like a whole roomful of people was just about to burst into tears. Such was the case on Friday night during a heartfelt conversation between Oakes founding provost Herman Blake and emeritus writing lecturer Don Rothman, covering more than 40 years of intellectual and social history at UCSC, with a special emphasis on the Oakes community. During the presentation, grateful Slugs thanked Blake and Rothman for influencing their lives for the better with their intelligence, guidance and far-reaching empathy. Read the full story here.

One day later in the same venue—the Humanities Hall—the audience listened in fascination as a distinguished panel including renowned social psychologist Elliot Aronson, noted Feminist Studies professor Bettina Aptheker, assistant professor in computer engineering Gabriel Elkaim, professor of molecular biology Manuel Ares, and theater arts associate professor Kate Edmunds, shared some of their classroom secrets. Read the full story here.

Alumni also took the time to explore the newly renovated McHenry Library, a state-of-the-art research and study hub that was rededicated during Alumni Weekend.

The three days were a time of reconnection. While sitting in the audience at one reunion event, John Dizikes, a professor emeritus of American studies, said he was heartened that some of his students from 1965 still remember him vividly.

“They felt that I’d encouraged them,” said Dizikes, who came to UCSC in 1965. A winner of the UCSC Alumni Association's Distinguished Teaching Award, Dizikes served as Cowell College provost, and mentored thousands of students during his career at UCSC. “And that was my primary function: to encourage them to do the best they could, and to find out they could do more than they thought they could, especially when they first arrived here and found themselves among so many bright people.”

From serious to silly

Sometimes, the atmosphere went from heartfelt and serious to endearingly silly.

In the Cowell quad, some normally staid alumni and current students were cajoled into getting their pictures taken while wearing Sammy the Slug fuzzy hats, feelers, buttons, and even a bright-yellow feather boa to demonstrate their abiding love for The Slug. Even Chancellor George Blumenthal was seen hamming it up in the photo booth.

At the alumni lunch at Cowell,  the dining hall experience led to unexpected memories. Janet Respess, (Cowell, ’75, biology) remembered getting scared senseless almost 40 years ago when a bunch of UCSC students dressed up as zombies and emerged from the forest near the West Entrance after a screening of “Night of the Living Dead.”

In the dining hall, winemaker and Bonny Doon Vineyard founder Randall Grahm was smiling proudly as he poured Banana Slug Rousanne 2010 wine—which tasted deliciously of pear butter and was stylishly outfitted with a student-designed label.

Grahm chuckled when asked if he could ever envision such a moment—standing in front of his fellow Slugs and pouring wine from his own winery. “I had not a clue,” he said. “I was just hoping I’d find my métier. In those days we didn’t worry so much. We imagined the world would take care of us. Actually, it did.”

Blast from the past

Frank Zwart (Cowell, '71, mathematics), UCSC campus architect emeritus, recalled how that very morning, he was driving up to campus, listening to a “Talk of the Nation” podcast on his iPod. The broadcast got him thinking about all the technological changes that had transpired since he graduated.

Suddenly, his perspective shifted when he heard Roger McGuinn of the Byrds performing “My Back Pages,” a much-loved Bob Dylan song.  “There I was, listening to a song I could have heard 40 years ago on campus,” he said. “It was just too corny, too coincidental to be true. And it brought tears to my eyes.”