Thursday, May 2, 2013

Alumni: Kindred spirits around the world

Ever since I started working at SAIS Bologna I've been aware of the program's strong sense of community. But it wasn't until I  attended alumni weekend that I realized how enduring the ties can be. Each year hundreds of alumni fly to Bologna from all over the world. They put their careers on hold for a weekend to re-live what for many was one of the best years of their lives.

Last year, Nelson Graves talked about his class's 30th reunion
This year, we asked John Gans, a SAIS alumnus and current Ph.D student, to tell us about his class's fifth reunion. (Amina Abdiuahab)

More than 350 SAISers returned to Bologna this past weekend to catch up with each other, support the Center and revisit this city’s educational, culinary and architectural treasures.

The alumni and their families enjoyed receptions and lectures arranged by Center staff, as well as dinners and aperitivi organized by class committees.

John (far right) with classmates
Class of 2008 
The fifth reunion of the BC Class of 2008 brought back nearly 80 of our classmates. Just as we arrived in Bologna for pre-term of our first year, we came from different places, in different shape and with different plans.

Some joined an organized bike ride from Rome while others recognized, bleary-eyed, their classmates on red-eyes from Washington. I walked the three blocks from my apartment off Piazza Aldrovandi where I am finishing my dissertation in the SAIS Ph.D program, fortunate for a second stay in Bologna due to the generosity of one of the Center’s Abernathy grants.

We came together at a number of events organized formally by our reunion committee and informally by groups of friends, former study partners and roommates. A Friday night dinner at Quindici on Via Marasole allowed us to reintroduce ourselves to each other and the mysteries of mortadella. The class photo on Saturday, the reunion of the class band – the "Perfect Substitutes" – and the boozy walk between that night’s class dinner on Strada Maggiore and the BC Fuzz concert reminded us we can somehow organize ourselves with and for purpose, especially one as important as a nightcap at Arteria. The wine tasting and gastro-tour of Corte D’Aibo outside Bologna on Sunday reminded us that the good life does not preclude good argument. The amici di Bologna know that good wine and good food only fuel it.

Why reunion matters to SAIS
Some left on flights first thing on Sunday. Others continued the reunion trip with a Tuscan tour. And some of us stayed on in Bologna, to study, to remember and to use the city as a base for jumping off to Europe.

Many suggested our days are busier since our last exams in Bologna five years ago this month. With BlackBerries in pockets, family time to treasure and our own interests to pursue – not to mention those of the countries and causes so many of us serve – it can be hard to muster the empathy that comes so easily when sitting in a class or a cafĂ© with so many and such passionate voices. It is hard to forget the views of others because they so willingly state them in class discussions, at dinner parties and on train trips around Italy.

What makes SAIS special to so many is the realization that our classmates are the ones we have been looking for. For years BB (before Bologna), many of us dreamed about the world, studied on our own and looked for those who shared our passions. We found ourselves, but almost as important, we found each other on via Belmeloro.

A reunion means different things to different people. A reunion can frustrate, inspire, upset and soothe. But like the rest of the SAIS experience and much in life, it is always a product of the people we meet along the way. The weekend reconnected friends and introduced new ones, but, most importantly, it recharged the empathy and understanding we develop at SAIS. We are reminded in the “hellos” on Friday, but most by Sunday’s “goodbyes,” how much it means to have kindred spirits around the world.

Johns Gans (BC08/DC09)

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