By Jake Strickler, Staff Writer
It was a clear and starry sky under which Thunderbirds – alumni and current students – joined together for a cocktail reception last Friday night hosted by the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association (TIAA) at Scottsdale’s Paradise Valley Country Club. The TIAA, as has been described in previous articles, is an independent group operated “by alumni, for alumni,” with a focus on “preserving the Thunderbird culture, mystique, network for graduates worldwide, and serving as a much-needed alumni voice,” according to Director Chris Vlahos. The purpose of Friday’s meeting was for members to gather, discuss the current position and future of the school and the TIAA’s relationship with it, and to enjoy the beautiful scenery and delicious provided appetizers.
As the forty-odd attendees assembled and the sun sank, splashing vivid colors across the sky around Camelback Mountain, everybody settled in for the main event: an address by TIAA board member Merle Hinrich; Thunderbird graduate of the class of 1965, founder of Global Sources and the Hinrich Foundation, and a man whose name should be familiar to anybody who has visited the International Business Information Center (IBIC) or strolled through the renovated tower on campus. Hinrich was very positive about the recent merger with Arizona State University (ASU), noting that while the school has navigated some choppy waters during recent years, he believes that ASU will help provide the stability needed to keep the ship righted.
Hinrich then introduced the five new members of the TIAA Scholar’s Program – entry into which is obtained through a recommendation from a current member of the group. This current batch comprises Tash Kovacs (MGM ’16), Kevin Roos (MGM ’16), Jake Strickler (MAGAM ’17, and in the interest of full disclosure, me), Cedric Yumba (MGM ’17) and Dan Zlaket (MGM ’16). All five were given the opportunity to speak about their lives, what drew them to Thunderbird, and describe what they hope to do after graduating. The diversity of the responses drove home the uniqueness of the “Thunderbird mystique;” while all came from different backgrounds and expressed the desire to pursue different types of paths upon graduation, they all possessed that certain indefinable something that brought them here.
A common impression that the attendees were left with was the impressive amount of concern that the alumni have for the school, and the strength of their desire to help out current students in any way that they can. Said Zlaket, “It was impactful and inspiring to see how invested the alumni are in our future success.” Roos expressed like sentiment, saying that “It’s amazing to see how much the TIAA supports the student body through this transition, showing the strength of the alumni network.” And Yumba told me that, “Speaking personally with members of the TIAA really uplifted my spirit and inspired me to be a driver of positive change and to remain positive about the school despite all it is going through. Thunderbird connects you to global minded people you would never have had the chance to meet otherwise.” Indeed, it does take an extremely special kind of school to inspire this sort of investment and commitment in its graduates, and we should take the very existence of the TIAA as a sign of the vitality of the community that we are fortunate enough to now all be a part of.
Feature image provided by the TIAA Facebook page.