A Small World After All: Looking Back on Regional Night

Courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management

by Daisy Jasmine, Staff Writer

 

Just a few weeks ago, the usually-quiet Thunderbird campus saw a brief and shining return to its former glory. In anticipation of the impending campus move, alumni of all ages flocked home from all corners of the world to roost one last time at this pastoral slice of Glendale. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, alumni and current students bonded over their love for the school—commiserating, laughing, and marveling at the truth in the old adage: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The returning alums took part in a full weekend of the most vital traditions and rituals of the school, from attending a master class to crowding into both the current and old pubs to relive Thursdays gone by.

A small section of the crowd attending campus tribute weekend. Courtesy of Grace Jasmine

But out of all of the events during that crowded weekend, the piece de resistance was without a doubt Saturday’s Regional Night. Wisely defined not by any one segment of the world but by the “region” of the globe in its entirety, this final Regional Night was so well-attended that the event had to be moved from its usual home in the TEC to an outdoor stage on the rugby pitch. The classic Arizona sunset provided the perfect backdrop, almost too symbolic, as students and alumni shared their cultures and their talents on the stage. And as the night drew to a close, a wave of community and unity washed over the darkening pitch and the audience as alumni, students, faculty, and families sang along in unison to “Hey Jude,” cellphone flashlights swaying like fireflies.

It can be argued that Regional Night is one of the cornerstones of the Thunderbird Mystique. Even before the Campus Tribute Weekend, the event has always stood as a homecoming and a celebration of the school and the world. I had the opportunity to speak with a few Thunderbird alums about their experiences with Regional Nights gone by. Here are some highlights from the interviews.

 

Glen Michel (left) with Thunderbird’s new director-general Sanjeev Khagram, former Los Angeles Alumni Association President MeiWah Wong (1999), and Michelle Runge (1991).

Glen A. Michel (MBA ’92) from Reston, Virginia reflected on his time enrolled in Thunderbird during the peak of the school’s enrollment, with hundreds of students a semester, and his experiences attending and taking part in Regional Night.

 

Das Tor: Did you attend Regional Nights while attending Thunderbird?

Glen Michel: “I attended all of them and participated in Asia Night each time it came up. I was part of the Japan contingent and gave Shotokan Karate demonstrations with my fellow T-bird, Norihiro Takasawa. Both of us earned our Black Belts in Japan.”

DT: What are some of your favorite moments from Regional Nights you attended while at Thunderbird?

GM: “The food, the enthusiasm, the atmosphere – everyone loved to share their culture with others. Two things I remember very well. The first was at our last Asia night. My pregnant wife Michiyo (originally from Japan) felt our son shift and we knew that he was about to be born. Soon after we were proud parents of a Thunderbaby boy.  The second was Africa Night and they brought a professional African Dance group in from Los Angeles. They were amazing! We were all entranced by the performance. It was like having a private show featuring the most talented dancers I’d ever seen.”

DT: How did the Global Regional Night during campus tribute weekend compare to the Regional Nights from your time at Thunderbird?

GM: “I must admit that I was in deep conversation with friends that I had not seen in many years inside the TAC for most of the evening. What I did see was fun. What I missed that I wish I had seen was the Haka dance. What was different was that all regions were represented on the same night. In my day, we had separate events for each region – Asia, Africa, Europe, etc. Then again, we had over 1,500 students on campus at any given time. We had to separate the events due to the large number of participants.”

DT: What does Regional Night mean to you?

GM: “It is one of the things that makes Thunderbird unique. It is a time to share with others our roots and/or our cultural affiliation. I grew up in a small Virginia town (today Reston, Virginia is a sprawling suburb of D.C. but in the 1960s and 70s it was a progressive but tiny place). I ended up living in Japan for over seven years and traveling in over 30 countries by the time I got to T-bird at age 29. I always participated in Asian night. But, I got to travel the rest of the world attending other Regional Nights.”

DT: How do you think the upcoming campus move will impact Thunderbird traditions like Regional Night? What do you hope to see in future years? What are your concerns?

GM: “I mourn the loss of the traditional campus with its history and memories. It is a sad thing to see it go. Nevertheless, I think that the move is an essential part of the school’s transformation to stay competitive and forge ahead. For 70 years Thunderbird remained independent.  That is something that few other internationally ranked business programs have ever accomplished. Most competitors, with the exception of INSEAD, have been associated with a larger research university. London Business School has the University of London, IESE has the University of Navarre, Darla Moore has the University of South Carolina, HBS has Harvard, IBEAR has USC, etc., etc. Now, Thunderbird has ASU, which has developed into a world class research university and is the biggest educational powerhouse in the state.

Regional nights need to be preserved and rallied around. Again, things like this are what make the school unique. I was concerned that Thunderbird would lose its identity with the move, but the speeches by ASU President Michael Crow, outgoing Director General Allen Morrison, and incoming Director General Sanjeev Khagram assured me of the future and their commitment to keep the Thunderbird Mystique alive.

If you delve into the history of our school, you will see that Thunderbird was born into controversy and was forced to the brink numerous times in the past. We survived by stepping up, executing corrective actions and then thrived until the next crisis. This time, with deep pocketed partners, money will not be the issue. Retaining our character and cultivating the Thunderbird Mystique will be the challenge. Fortunately, our students, alumni and staff are a loud boisterous bunch that I trust will demand retention of who we are. The future is bright and Regional Nights will continue to be core expressions of who we are.”

Joe Jaeger, MGM Class of Winter 2017

Joe Jaeger (MGM ’17), native to the Phoenix area, expressed optimism for the future of the school’s traditions like Regional Night in light of the campus transition.

DT: What are some of your favorite moments from Regional Nights you attended while at Thunderbird?

Joe Jaeger: “I loved the opportunity to bring my friends from outside Thunderbird to come see the amazing world that I lived in. It was so cool to see my fellow classmates showcasing talents that I would never have seen in class.”

DT: What does Regional Night mean to you?

JJ: “Regional Night is an event that could only happen at Thunderbird. The global culture is pervasive on campus and in classes, but Regional Night is where it really shines.”

DT: How do you think the upcoming campus move will impact Thunderbird traditions like Regional Night? What do you hope to see in future years? What are your concerns?

JJ: “The campus move has the potential to have a hugely positive impact on Regional Night, provided they have adequate space. A more convenient, central location will allow students to bring their families and friends to see what makes Thunderbird more special. My hope is that even more people will be able to experience this unique and beautiful event.”

DT: Outside of Regional Night, what Thunderbird traditions do you hope to see continue well into the school’s future?

JJ: “I hope that campus life will continue to be as vibrant as it was during my time there! The lasting friendships that are built at Thunderbird are just as valuable as the world-class education.”

DT: As this chapter in Thunderbird history draws to a close and the next begins, is there anything you would like to say to Das Tor readers and your fellow thunderbirds around the world?

JJ: “I hope that T-birds will understand the necessity of this move and look forward to the opportunities that it presents! We have to respect our history, but a modern campus in a central location will propel the school into the future.”

 

Vivek Mehta, Class of 2012

Vivek Mehta (MBA ’12) from India took the time to speak with me in true Thunderbird fashion— on a call across a 12-hour time difference.

DT: Did you attend Regional Nights while attending Thunderbird? What are some of your favorite moments from Regional Nights you attended while at Thunderbird?

Vivek Mehta: Yes, I went to every single one of them—my favorite memory was when I took part in a Taiwanese dance.

DT: What does Regional Night mean to you? Would you have changed anything about your Regional Night experience?

VM: “Celebrating and sharing our culture. We share who we are and celebrate our differences, and one of the best way to do it is Regional Night—especially the dancing and the food. I wouldn’t change anything, it was perfect.”

DT: How do you think the upcoming campus move will impact Thunderbird traditions like Regional Night? What do you hope to see in future years? What are your concerns?

VM: “I think Regional Night is the result of the spirit and dedication of a lot of people—as long as the Thunderbird Mystique is alive, location should not matter. It would be great to get involvement with ASU community. One of the aims of the school is to bridge areas with diversity. It would be good for them to come and learn about what Regional Night is. We can also learn something from other students. Even those students can come and experience Regional Night. We can get access to other resources, food and music.

I want to draw a line of caution; enhancing the school is definitely good, but it should not become just a ‘wild college party.’”

DT: Outside of Regional Night, what Thunderbird traditions do you hope to see continue well into the school’s future?

VM: “The reason why the school is so unique—I love the different cultures that are represented at Thunderbird. 45 to 50 cultures at any different time. We need to continue this at ASU. I think ASU does a good job at this, but it shouldn’t just be about attending classes. Thunderbird’s mission of understanding cultures needs to be something we continue. I hope we don’t get lost and can maintain our identity.”

DT: Is there anything else you would like to say to Das Tor readers and your fellow Thunderbirds around the world?

VM: “The Thunderbird Mystique lives on.”

 

The Thunderbird Mystique lives on.

Looking back on decades of traditions and bonds formed at this school, it’s clear that nothing could be more true. Campus Tribute Weekend and the final Global Regional Night was a fitting and heartfelt send-off to all that Thunderbird stands for—each student, teacher, staff, and alumni bringing their own culture and history together in an auditorium or out on a rugby pitch to create something beautiful that we will remember forever. Even as we move on from this historic campus, as long as traditions like Regional Night continue, there is no need to fear for the future of the Thunderbird Mystique. Despite its enigmatic name, there is no inscrutability or mystery to the spirit of Thunderbird—it comes from us.

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