An Alumni Weekend to remember

Record-breaking crowd of alumni celebrate UC Santa Cruz's 50th anniversary by coming back to campus for talks, tours, good food, and good company

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M. Sanjayan (Ph.D. biology, '97), host of the new groundbreaking PBS nature series EARTH A New Wild, wowed a capacity crowd. (Photo by Steve Kurtz)
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Sammy the Slug, the UC Santa Cruz mascot, dances with a young fan. (Photo by Crystal Birns)
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The day brought back memories for Yanelli Torres (Crown, '12, sociology). "I grew up here," she said. (Photo by Crystal Birns)
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Nico, 4, and Bella, 8, children of alumnus Andy Mione, enjoyed the Banana Slug Kid Zone event. while their mother, Nica, looks on. (Photo by Crystal Birns)
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UC Santa Cruz professor of feminist studies Bettina Aptheker delivered a talk about "Feminism and Social Justice" to a rapt crowd during the Teach-Ins event. She received two standing ovations, one as she began her talk, and another at the end. (Photo by Steve Kurtz)
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Movie producer Ron Yerxa talked about film comedy with arts writer Wallace Baine. (Photo by Crystal Birns)
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In Quarry Plaza, De-Neita Peoples (College Ten '09, political science), a lawyer, reminisced with friends while helping out at the African Appreciation Day event. (Photo by Crystal Birns)

A record-breaking crowd of 2,500 revelers, more than half of them alumni, took part in UC Santa Cruz's Alumni Weekend this year—a special edition of the event that was bigger and more elaborate than ever before in honor of the campus's 50th anniversary.

Attendees enjoyed lectures and panels, a farm-style lunch al fresco overlooking Monterey Bay, tours and scavenger hunts, musical performances, reunions, presentations, alumni wines and beers, and each other's company. At the end of the day, they warmed their feet at a blazing bonfire while eating s'mores and listening to ukulele versions of vintage mid-'60s tunes.

Images from Alumni Weekend:

The celebration kicked off on Friday with the sold-out all-day TEDx Santa Cruz "Radical Collaboration" event in Santa Cruz's Rio Theatre featuring 24 speakers and an eclectic mix of science, poetry, music, education, philanthropy, and ecology.

That evening, M. Sanjayan (Ph.D. biology, '97), host of the new groundbreaking PBS nature series EARTH A New Wild, wowed a capacity crowd with tales from the field and breathtaking footage of wildlife across the globe, highlighting the role of conservation in improving human well-being, wildlife, and the environment.

"Humans need nature a lot more than nature needs us," he said during his keynote talk, "A New Wild: Saving Nature in a Human-Dominated World."

During the event, Sanjayan was also presented with the UC Santa Cruz Alumni Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed on a graduate of the campus.

In a nod to the campus's history, many Alumni Weekend events, including a sit-down Banana Slug Lunch with farm-fresh offerings, took place at Cowell College—the first college at UC Santa Cruz.

Jane Hanson (Cowell '71, history) strolled through Cowell on Saturday morning, greeting old friends. She said she was grateful that staff members were handing out nametags to everyone. "I look the same," she observed drily. "But everybody else looks so different!"

Richard Shaffer (Cowell '69, philosophy) drew many belly laughs during his remarks at an informal symposium called The Creation of Beauty in the Company of Friends at the Page Smith Library.

Shaffer, a noted artist, and part of UC Santa Cruz's pioneer class, recalled a startling conversation with history professor, UC Santa Cruz visionary and Cowell founding provost Page Smith, who confessed to him, around the time of Shaffer's graduation, "The reason you were admitted is I just thought your picture was interesting." Smith also said, "You are one of our weird ones. What are you going to do now?"

But Shaffer said UC Santa Cruz was a great preparation for an adventurous life. He said the early campus "connected me with the ongoing idea of an experiment, a sense of invention, risk-taking, play. All those things were supported by my teachers."

Misty-eyed remembrances

Out in Cowell Plaza, a group of alumni were asked to shout out the three things that came to mind when they looked back on their years at UC Santa Cruz. "Peace, love, activism," one early 1980s alumna said. One, attributing her career success to her time at UC Santa Cruz, shouted out, "My monthly paycheck!"

When it was her turn to shout three memorable things, Yanelli Torres (Crown sociology, '12), shouted out, "Cardiac Hill. The view. Banana slugs."

Torres recalled her initial surprise when she drove up to campus for the first time to take classes. "At first it felt a little weird," she confessed. "I remember driving through dry grass, past the cows. I didn't know what to expect—and the road kept going up and up and up."

But she acclimated quickly, becoming a resident advisor and orientation leader. "I got confidence. I gained leadership skills. I grew up."

Michael Masek (Cowell '70, history), standing at the edge of the same courtyard, went from joyfully irreverent to teary-eyed as he looked back on his UC Santa Cruz days.

He said his time there was a deeply rewarding experience and mentioned the professors who shaped his outlook during his time as a student.

"Mary Holmes (a beloved founding faculty member, artist, and art historian) was not a retiring sort," he recalled. Early in his time on campus, he said something he thought was profound. "She immediately said, 'Young man, how could you be so naïve?' Bam!"

But Holmes tempered her demanding style with caring and generosity. "She was very affirming without being patronizing at all," he said. "Her attitude was: 'I am going to treat you as a real person with a real brain, and with high expectations.' She didn't sugarcoat her criticisms at all. It was delightful."

He also credits UC Santa Cruz for keeping him out of the Vietnam War, and bringing his wife—alumna Alice Frahm Masek—into his life. They met on campus and have been together ever since.

Nostalgia had a similar effect on Andy Mione (Stevenson '96, psychology), founder of a psychology counseling center in Auburn, helping over 100 people a day. He stood by and watched his kids, Bella, 8, and Nico, 5, romp around the Banana Slug Kid Zone, a family-friendly craft and activity area.

"This experience here surpassed the wildest dreams I had about what college would be like," he said. "And now here I am with my beautiful family."

Restoring Quarry glory

Bruce Steiner (Crown '77, psychobiology) sounded a similar note of nostalgia and family continuity when he paused in front of the scenic Quarry Amphitheater, an award-winning outdoor event space that has played host to lectures, graduations, and concerts but was closed in 2006 for safety reasons.

Restoring and reopening the Quarry Amphitheater is among the priorities of The Campaign for UC Santa Cruz.

"This was the center of campus," Steiner said. He recalled some grand moments as well as some surprising ones, such as the time he saw a porcupine waddle across the grounds.

This quiet place gave him a timeless feeling. "When I was here, Jerry Brown was governor," he said. "Now my daughter is here, and Jerry Brown is governor again."

Nearby, in Quarry Plaza, De-Neita Peoples (College Ten '09, political science), helping out at the African Appreciation Day event, remembered when she first showed up to campus and had to get through some lonely times. She found fellowship and a comforting sense of community at Delta Sigma Theta, a traditionally African American sorority.

Since arriving there, she's worked hard to expand diversity at UC Santa Cruz. She became part of an effort to bring admitted African American high school students up to campus for a weekend to get a vivid sense of college life. "We needed them to know there was a community of people up here that was going to support them."

Back to school

Aside from surrendering to nostalgia, attendants re-experienced classroom learning but without the stress of exams and with a wide assortment of topics from film and law to art and writing.

As part of the True Originals speaker series, Paul Hall (Merrill '72) l moderated an interdisciplinary panel of distinguished alumni who took a close look at the interplay of money and power in political and governing systems; from campaign finance and the effect of money in politics to legal and political responses to global warming and climate change.

Film producer Ron Yerxa (Grad Division '74) had a spirited dialogue with arts writer, journalist, and novelist Wallace Baine about American film comedies. Yerxa spoke of filmmakers who worked hard to find "the sweet spot"—making movies that take on weighty issues while entertaining the viewer.

He also spoke of the profound influence that UC Santa Cruz has had on his career, and, in particular, the teachings of professor emeritus of American studies John Dizikes. "He's kind of the Brad Pitt of university professors," Yerxa remarked.

During this year's Teach-In events, psychology professor Craig Haney drew gasps from the capacity crowd when he showed a chart illustrating the exponential increase in American incarceration rates over the past few decades. He also argued that inaccurate portrayals of crime and its causes have guided the U.S's criminal justice system.

UC Santa Cruz professor of feminist studies Bettina Aptheker delivered a talk about "Feminism and Social Justice" to a rapt crowd that included a large number of her former students. Though much of the talk was sobering—Aptheker drew links between animus toward abortion rights with rape culture and violence against women—she ended the talk with inspiring words from the late Adrienne Rich, a celebrated poet who was a longtime Santa Cruz resident. Rich was a mentor to Aptheker.

"We need to imagine a world in which every woman is the presiding genius of her own body," Rich wrote. "In such a world, women will truly create life, bring forth not only children (if we choose) but the visions, and the thinking necessary to sustain, console, and alter human existence—a new relationship to the universe."