By Emma Livingston, Co-Editor
This past weekend, Thunderbird celebrated its 70th Anniversary with an All Class Reunion. The festivities started for me early in the week, with a dinner at Pappadeaux with a Japanese alum from 1991, and continued to build momentum as maintenance mounted an elegant white picket fence to vastly expand the outdoor boundaries of the Pub, and as our empty campus gradually filled with hundreds of alumni of all ages from all countries, reveling in coming back home to Thunderbird. To have the campus bursting to the seams with people gave us current students a glimpse into how Thunderbird must have been in its heyday, when the campus had up to 1600 people studying here at a time.
The weekend was jam packed full of activities: From networking sessions, to luncheons, to educational leadership forums, to an injury-inducing rugby game between current students and alums, to break out jam sessions in the Global Sounds practice rooms, to impromptu parties in (the normally closed) Sobo and Coleman Lounges, to pool parties and barbecues, and of course the inevitable, wildly raucous pub nights. I felt the best way to capture some of the magic of this weekend was to ask attendees about the highlight of their weekend.
For Yuya Ota (MBA ’16, Japan), the highlight was the Alumni Reception at the TEC. “They had a DJ, and after the dinner, everyone started dancing. It was so funny for me to see alumni from 1950s, 1960s, 1970s dancing like crazy. It showed me that Thunderbird students never change. They were party people when they were at Thunderbird, then they became grown up and got a job, but once they come back to Thunderbird, they are kids again.”
Marc Adesso (MBA ’08, USA, whom Das Tor scholars may remember as the original Dr. Love), told me: “Probably the most fun moment was when I returned from the Pub to my hotel room at the Executive Inn, and heard some music. The music sounded like live music, so it made me quite curious. I followed the sound, and encountered a group of current students (Global Sounds) with a full band setup in an unoccupied dorm room rocking out. The late night music was quite good, and the students’ dancing was even better!”
Jeff Karlick (MBA ’16, USA, current Global Sounds bandleader) agrees: “That jam session was the most fun I’ve ever had playing music. Seeing talent come out from people that I’d never seen before…it went on for four hours and my voice hasn’t recovered! It was so, so, so much fun. There were alumni in there with us, recent graduates, there were people who came up to me the next day who I didn’t even know were there who told me: You guys were killing it last night! It was one of the best nights of my life, not just the weekend.” Jeff also enjoyed more quiet moments during the weekend. “The campus looked so beautiful. At one point, I just sat on the stage where Dr. Morrison had made his opening speech and just looked out at everyone and reflected on my time here at Thunderbird.”
“The paella dinner was very nice,” Mohamed Vall (MBA ’16, Mauritania) told me. “I liked it because the party itself was nice: the music, the setting. It was well organized and I met with a lot of people: alums, friends. It was a good opportunity to introduce myself, and the atmosphere was good.”
Professor Mary Sully de Luque told me: “Really the highlight was seeing former students and seeing how well they were doing. Also hearing from the older alumni who were really pleased with the curriculum changes (such as classes in Corporate Social Responsibility and Leadership) and how we’re really catering to the students’ needs more. At the dinner on Saturday I met a group of women that graduated in the 80s, and it seemed like they were skeptical about the whole change, but they were happier with it after coming here and talking to people. It’s always fun to see my old students.”
Many current students enjoyed in-depth conversations with the visiting alums. “I really enjoyed meeting alumni from many different decades, at rugby events or down at the Old Pub,” said Chris White (MGM ’17, Australia).
One alum in particular caught the attention of Jake Strickler (MAGAM ’17, USA). “He was stationed at the American embassy in Kenya in 1998, which was the first Al-Quaeda attack against the “far” enemy. They bombed the embassy, 200 people died, he spent three and a half hours buried under rubble suffocating and he lived.”
Travis Hookham (MAGAM ’17, USA/Chile) learned a piece of Thunderbird lore. “We hosted an Honor Council mixer with James Scott, Honor Council members, and alumni. It was a really nice meeting of Honor Councils past and present. I met the lady who founded the Honor Council. She told me that when she went here in the 90s, she was friends with a whole bunch of Indian students. So the Indian students at the time had a packet of previous tests that was passed down throughout the semesters. When it came to finals week, one of her good friends said: This is my gift to you…and hands her the packet of these test answers. Her emotional reaction was, thank you because of the friendship, but what do I do with this? This is a huge ethical violation, this is terrible business practice. This was her first encounter with cheating on that level. So she pulled a whole bunch of students together to build awareness amongst the student body and it spiraled into a more formal body that evolved into its own entity: The Honor Council.”
“I met a Thunderbird alum at Coleman Lounge whom I’d met at a conference in 2008,” Makarand Gawade (MBA ’16, India) said. “I had no idea he was a Thunderbird until I met him again this weekend!” Makarand added that a highlight for him was “the positive energy on campus. There were so many people on campus! It was great to spend the weekend here.”
Jorge Cespedes (MBA ’15, Peru) enjoyed “the really T-Bird conversations.” For example, during a dinner with a Japanese alum, they talked about “the corporate Japanese culture and how that is changing. My paradigms about Japanese culture is that they are very formal and very commanding: there is a vertical distance between the bosses and the regular work force. But that’s not always true! This Japanese alum was saying that he is very American in his style and very close to people.”
“I would say that my favorite part of the weekend was simply seeing so many smiling T-birds with whom I have forged deep friendships. It was also fantastic recounting the school’s proud history as well as hearing its plans to ensure a bright future,” said Matt McConaty (MBA ’15, USA). “It was really wonderful being back on campus and interacting with many, magnificent humans.”
John Kellen (MIM ’87, USA) also felt a strong positive vibe over the weekend: “My highlight was feeling the energy of so many extraordinary people. Thunderbird is alive and on the move! Now more than ever the need for world leaders is critical and Thunderbird is THE place to train those who will change the world. I’m honored to be part of it!”
Julia Mitusova (MBA ’15, Russia) summed it up best for me. “I can say that it was great to be back home. Thunderbird is a very special place – not just home for two years of the program, but a place that you can truly call home, where you feel welcome and you know you will meet people from “your tribe”. It was awesome to catch up with friends, professors and make new connections. I also enjoyed just walking around campus and reliving some of the wonderful memories I have from the two years I spent here.”
With my own time at Thunderbird winding down, it was beautiful to see so many T-Birds coming from near and far to remember their time here and to create new memories with old friends and new. I will always feel connected to this place and to the amazing people that I’ve met here. I will meet you all at the 80th Anniversary, 2026.