Brandeis Alumni, Family and Friends

Alumni Reunite to Celebrate the Best of Brandeis at Alumni Weekend

June 12, 2018

Watch video recordings of Alumni Weekend events here.

More than 1,200 alumni and friends returned to campus to celebrate reunions and other special connections and to see the best of Brandeis at the inaugural Alumni Weekend June 8-10.

“The weekend was wonderful,” said Horace Baxter ’03, waiting at the train station Sunday before beginning his journey back to Seattle after celebrating his 15th reunion on campus. “It was truly a realization of nostalgia, but also possibilities of the future, not just for myself, but for up and coming generations. I could see the sheer potential between former generations and newer generations, and I could see a strength growing between the interactions.”

Alumni Weekend was designed to celebrate and foster these connections. “We love honoring reunions and are thrilled so many alumni in reunion years returned,” said Patsy Fisher, vice president of Alumni Relations. “We also know that many alumni have other connections to Brandeis, and we wanted to open the doors to them as well.”

The weekend reminded many people of the special role Brandeis has played in their lives.

“Coming back to Brandeis feels like coming back home. This is the place where I grew up,” said Maria Rodriguez ’75, who drove to Brandeis from outside Austin, Texas. When she learned that Alumni Weekend was open to all classes, she knew just what to do. “I said, ‘Elsie, let’s go,’” referring to her friend Elsie Morales ’72, whom she picked up in upstate New York. “I haven’t been here in a while, and I love this campus. I just wanted to be here and enjoy this place.”

In addition to reunion celebrations, the weekend included an extended Alumni College, the Ralph Norman Barbecue, Trucks and Tunes, and a “Fire & ‘Deis” gala celebration (with a “phenomenal” band, according to Elizabeth Asen ’13, co-chair of the 5th Year Reunion with husband Josh Asen ’13). It also featured events unique to this year, such as an inside look at the experience of winning a Nobel Prize with Peter Gruber Professor of Neuroscience Michael Rosbash, a discussion on activism in Hollywood between 2018 Alumni Achievement Award winner Tony Goldwyn ’82 and University Professor Anita Hill, and TED-Style talks hosted by the Alumni of Color Network.

Alumni Weekend opened with a song of hope, Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” sung by Nancy Armstrong, Adjunct Associate Professor of the Practice of Theater Arts. “Celebrating Leonard Bernstein at 100, West Side Story at 60” was the kickoff event for Alumni College, an annual back-to-the-classroom experience. As part of Alumni Weekend’s expanded programming, Alumni College events were held throughout the weekend, rather than only on Friday as in years previous. At the Bernstein event, three faculty panelists discussed “West Side Story,” including examining its connections to classical music and challenging its depiction of Puerto Rican culture.

Other Alumni College sessions on Friday ranged from “World Order in the Age of Trump” to “Robots, Artificial Intelligence and their Impact on Education and the Digital Economy.” Saturday morning’s Alumni College event, “The Nobel Experience with Professor Michael Rosbash,” drew several hundred people to Spingold Theater to hear often humorous stories about the experience of winning the prize and traveling to Sweden to accept science’s highest honor. The last Alumni College event was an open house at the MakerLab, where alumni and their families were able to test out virtual reality headsets and learn about the many innovations coming out of the space.

Saturday afternoon, Spingold filled again when President Ron Liebowitz provided a University update before presenting the 2018 Alumni Achievement Award to the actor, director, producer and activist Tony Goldwyn ’82, best known for playing President Fitzgerald Grant III on the TV show “Scandal.”

In his address, Liebowitz outlined his priorities for Brandeis, many of which are about building greater connections.

“Alumni Weekend is part of an effort at creating deeper ties to the institution, which I think are crucial for the future of Brandeis,” Liebowitz said. “So, whatever it is that brings you back here – former faculty members, great remembrances of clubs or athletics, friends – please continue. It’s crucial to our future and for Brandeis.”

After the president’s remarks, Goldwyn and University Professor Anita Hill discussed activism in Hollywood and the MeToo movement with Alice Kelikian, chair of the Program in Film, Television and Interactive Media.

Anita Hill expressed her optimism about the future, especially based on the activism she has seen on this and other campuses. I don’t know where it’s going to head next,” she said, “but I think we now have a group of young people who have come up through years of seeing this in places like their college campuses. And I think we might have another generation like we had in the 60s of young people continuing to be active and engaged and doing work around social justice.”

Hill’s message resonated with Adi Shmuel ’08, president of the Alumni Club of Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “I thought Anita Hill had some very interesting things to say, validating the whole MeToo movement,” Shmuel said. “It’s a social movement to get people talking and make sure people’s stories mean something.”

Earlier on Saturday, members of the Class of 1968 gathered in a large circle near Massell Quad to talk about what Brandeis had meant to them, often in very moving terms. “I realize how much of me is in Brandeis and how much of Brandeis is in me,” Howard Rosenfield ’68 said afterward. Alumni Weekend marked just the second time Rosenfield has returned to Brandeis in 50 years.

Alumni Weekend reminded some attendees of the importance of face-to-face interaction.

“In the age of Facebook it’s so easy to have these superficial back-and-forths, and you think you’ve communicated because you’ve commented on a post,” said Jennifer Gruda ’98, celebrating her 20th reunion. “There’s nothing like reconnecting in person.”

Gruda reconnected with Gina Posner ’98, whom she hadn’t seen since commencement. Posner, who brought her husband and two young daughters, was carrying on a family tradition started by her father, Jordan Miller ’62. “I remember going to his Reunion when I was five so I knew I wanted to take my kids to my 20th.”