Looking back and moving forward: Alumni Reunion Weekend 2024

Alumni Reunion Weekend welcomes back classes of 1965-74

Alumni Reunion Weekend welcomes back nearly 200 alumni, family, and friends.

“Anything might happen, but things work out here at UC Santa Cruz,” said Peggy Stein (Cowell ’74). 

Neither rain nor the hundred car line pooling out of Coolidge to High Street could deter the Golden Classes of 1965-74 from attending UCSC’s 2024 Alumni Reunion Weekend. A special year for the class of ’74 celebrating their 50th reunion. 

With nearly 200 alumni, family, and friends in attendance, Alumni Reunion Weekend, held April 14-15, was filled with reminiscing, rekindling, and reuniting. Assistant Vice Chancellor of Alumni Engagement John D. Pine emphasizes the excitement surrounding the weekend.  

“Alumni Reunion Weekend is a special program specifically for our Golden Alumni classes who experienced UC Santa Cruz in its earliest days,” Pine said. “We are proud to produce this event every year and honor these classes. A special congratulations to the class of ’74, celebrating their 50th milestone.”

Promptly at 10 a.m. on April 14, the Cowell classes of 1965-74 and more gathered in the Cowell Conference Room to discuss their creative paths since graduation. With coffee and Ferrell’s donuts in hand—and rain gear on—the conversation commenced. Don Wallace (Cowell ’74) led the room filled with novelists, screenwriters, artists, and more in a conversation of how folks have spent their post graduation lives. 

Sitting in the room felt like sitting in someone’s living room, and any complaint of weather or traffic changed tune as soon as folks started talking. Some of these friendships have lasted for over fifty years. Wallace, Tom Killian (Cowell ’75), and Chris Connery (Cowell ’74) met in Adams House at Cowell College. One year of college, Connery went to hitchhike across the Sahara Desert. Killian spoke of these detailed letters that he’d read from Connery, inspiring Killian himself to one day live in Africa. 

William “Bill” Finnegan dropped out of UCSC twice before graduating. Calling himself a “fairly confused, super ambitious romantic of a young adulthood,” now Finnegan is an award-winning writer for The New Yorker

For all these people involved in the conversation, UC Santa Cruz was a place to explore, and it took them to places they never thought they would go. 

“I saw Santa Cruz in a 1965 Life Magazine article. We all knew we were coming to a place like this, and then it was better,” Connery said. “It was a place where dreams could become reality.”  

While Cowell’s graduating class discussed, a similar conversation was happening at Merrill College. Provost Aims McGuinness held a storytelling workshop for current students and alumni. 

In a circle, current and former students spoke of ways they have handled interruptions in their student lives. From power outages to turkeys to revolutionary movements to the infamous Naked Run, both current and past students alike shared laughs and memories.

Roberto I. de la Rosa (Merrill ’02) had a unique connection to UCSC. He grew up in Family Student Housing with his sister Yvonne, while his father attended school in the 70s. Roberto I. de la Rosa was only three, when his sister would walk him around campus in a stroller. When he got on campus he remembered familiar smells and feelings. 

“The nature of where we are located—the trees, the lushness—is healing. I feel peace and tranquility within my soul when I’m on campus. As chaotic as our political state is, something is grounding about being at UCSC,” de la Rosa said. “It replenishes my soul. It helps rekindle the fire like I am a student again, with all the optimism in the world.”

When de la Rosa was a student, he pursued Latin American and Latino studies (LALS). Around the same time, students were protesting tuition hikes both at UCSC and in Mexico. It was also during the Zapatista movement in Mexico that destabilized the one-party system that had existed there for so long. With so much push for social change around him, de la Rosa felt pushed to advocate for the people in his community. Now, the chief financial officer for O.L.A. Raza, Inc, and the chair of the California Rural Legal Assistance, inc, de la Rosa’s day-to-day involves helping those who may not have access to legal assistance. 

“You never underestimate what a small group of people can do for you. To be around people who feel the same way as you is really inspiring,” de la Rosa said. “Other alumni doing work they sought out to do in the first place gives me so much hope for the future.”

While Merrill alumni and current students finished up their conversations, a short walk up was the Crown/Merrill Dining Hall. Here, three alumni were recognized as the recipients of the 2023 Fiat Lux Award. Su Nerton (Crown ’71, ’87), Jim Lapsley (Crown ’71), and Lisa Rose (Crown ’72) received the award for their dedication and service to the university and Crown College. The program then moved to honor the provost at Crown College, fifty years ago, Kenneth V. Thimann. 

Back down cardiac hill and to Cowell, we enter the Page Smith Library—where current Cowell students and alumni discussed the evolution of UCSC to today. 

Laura Lacey Caldwell (Cowell ’69) was a part of the first freshman class to graduate from UCSC. She thought about transferring to Berkeley to major in linguistics, not offered at UCSC at the time, but opted to stay. 

“I stayed because of Page Smith and the emphasis they put on us being the Pioneer Class. There was that personal connection that I don’t know if students have today,” Caldwell said. “I can never forget peeking at the letter of reference that Page Smith wrote for my teaching program. He said, ‘I would want my children to have a teacher just like Laura.’”

Caldwell taught since then and still substitutes in Santa Cruz today. 

Current students' faces dropped as alumni spoke of how close faculty and students were during the first decade of UCSC. Tom Killian and Don Wallace asked students if they still climbed the redwood tree in the upper quad of Cowell College. One freshman raised their hand to say that someone had. Though things have changed in the last fifty years, it is fair to say some things stay the same. 

Current students brought up their struggle with Santa Cruz’s housing crisis. They asked alumni to talk about what they struggled with when they were in school. The consensus was: the Vietnam War. 

“A lot of guys I spoke to said they would not have gone to college if they didn’t have to face the likelihood of being drafted,” said Stephen Klein (Cowell ’72). 

Klein recalled being huddled around a television set during one of the first lotteries, waiting for birthdays to be called. Other alumni also spoke of similar experiences. Students then rejoiced over Lyndon B. Johnson's announcement that he would not seek another term for president. Everyone was just waiting for the war to be over. 

Klein said this was part of why so many students from his class and time sought out ways to help foster transformative change.

”As I was speaking with folks from the reunion I had not seen in many years, it was gratifying to see that a large part of their lives and travels over the years were influenced by their time at UCSC,” Klein said. “We chose professions with a helping element to them. In our personal lives we made decisions that made for a better community. These are values that Santa Cruz helped nurture.”

Conversations continued, and young students and alumni kept sharing their experiences. The legacy of students being the driving force of this school stays true. 

No matter the rain, no matter the surroundings, since 1965 Santa Cruz students have been coming together. UCSC’s legacy stays rich boasting the same beautiful views and justice oriented people.