StoryCruz: Alumni Weekend 2016

Alumni Weekend revelers tell their UC Santa Cruz stories, reminiscing about their student days and reflecting on how college set the stage for their lives and careers

Hundreds of UC Santa Cruz alumni came back to school in April, but without having to cram for exams, write essays, or worry about grades.

They came for Alumni Weekend—a time to reconnect with UC Santa Cruz and each other, enjoy good conversation, attend fascinating lectures (without taking notes!), participate in events and reunions, and reminisce on green fields overlooking the Monterey Bay.

StoryCruz, UC Santa Cruz’s oral storytelling project, caught a few alumni and asked them to tell their UC Santa Cruz stories as they milled about College Eight after an al fresco lunch.

Anthony Palavi (Oakes '13, economics and environmental studies, minor electrical engineering) of Santa Cruz, who is currently working on a masters in applied economics and finance, said he was very unfocused academically “because I just wanted to do everything!”

Among his best memories was participating in the program that allows students to study renewable energy in Denmark (the the Denmark-California Renewable Energy Summer Program).

“UC Santa Cruz is very involved not only at the community level but at the global level,” he said.

Diana Alfaro (College Ten '11, politics and Latin American and Latino studies) of Santa Cruz had decided to pursue law, but when she went to a mini law forum, she realized the field was not for her.

"I was a very lost student for awhile,” she said. But a new passion arose.

“I really fell in love with my major of Latino studies, and I tried to find something in that field," she said. She found a job in affordable housing, which has become a career.

Karyn Sapon Anderson (Stevenson '82, history), originally from New York, told an entertaining story about some words of advice she got from a chance meeting with then–Gov. Jerry Brown (during his second term) directing her to UC Santa Cruz over other UCs as she and her father traveled the state to tour colleges.

"I fell in love with the campus … my dad was completely comfortable with me going to such a great location, a very safe environment, with the recommendation of the governor of California!" said Sapon Anderson. "I wound up coming to California and going to UC Santa Cruz and literally had the best four years of my life."

Caitlin Freeman (Kresge '97 photography) of San Francisco is the resident pastry chef for Blue Bottle Coffee, founded by husband James Freeman (Stevenson '90, philosophy).

Inspired to bake by the confectionary paintings of California painter Wayne Thiebaud, Caitlin decided to re-create those very cakes when Blue Bottle opened a café in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Many art-inspired desserts later, she wrote the book Modern Art Desserts.

“My college years were more about finding myself, kind of this extended growing up,” she said.

She cited photography lecturer Ingeborg Gerdes (who retired in 2006) as among her most influential teachers. "She really had us out of the classroom a lot and we spent a lot of time in San Francisco going to galleries, and spent a lot of time at the SFMOMA."

James said he was “a dilettante,” focused on playing clarinet.

“I was a spotty student,” he said. “I had moments of triumph and then moments of mediocrity. But I learned a lot about clarity of thought and clarity of expression.”

He didn't realize it wasn't very common to have that purity of expression when he started the business of Blue Bottle Coffee, he said. Blue Bottle now has 25 stores, including three in Tokyo, and more than 600 employees.

“I think that's really helped me not be tethered too much to these dreary practicalities. I could focus on what I thought was pure and beautiful and not realize that there were other options,” he said.

“What would you wish for her in an education at UC Santa Cruz?” asked Caitlin, referring to their 9-month-old daughter happily snuggling against mom in a baby carrier.

“Same sense of studying something because she wanted to, because she was interested in it, because she thought it was pure and beautiful…,” James said. “That's what I want for her.”

Alumni Weekend 2017 will be April 28–30. Mark your calendars and watch for information coming soon!