After Commencement festivities draw to a close, new graduates may ask themselves how they could possibly say goodbye to Washington University after four years’ worth of memories, achievements and learning experiences. But that is a trick question. As the word “commencement” suggests, graduation marks not an end but rather the beginning of a new relationship with the university. No longer students, these freshly minted graduates now join a proud, diverse and engaged community of WashU alumni.
The Washington University Alumni Association oversees a dynamic nexus of regional, industry, shared interest and cultural networks that encourage alumni of all ages to stay connected with the university, wherever life may lead them. With happy hour meet-ups in Houston, San Francisco and Seattle — and a gala in New York — summer 2019 was a particularly busy season for young alumni ages 22–35.
The Gateway to the West meets the Golden Gate City
When Will Stein, AB ’14, moved to San Francisco after graduation, he was eager to keep in contact with friends and classmates in the area. He connected with the city’s alumni chair, who knew about his knack for event-planning from their days as fraternity brothers, and Stein soon became young alumni chair for the WashU San Francisco Bay Area Network.
During his three-year tenure, and before moving to New York, Stein led a team that launched a boat cruise; hosted a gala at the Contemporary Jewish Museum; and organized wine tastings, brewery tours and happy hours. The volunteer work and events offered him opportunities to explore his adopted city with friends, while also crossing paths with fellow alumni whom he may never have met — including several coworkers from Google!
Washington University nostalgia hits Gotham
After earning her degree, Allison Swimmer, AB ’17, landed in New York like many young WashU grads. However, she was surprised to find fewer young alumni events on the calendar than in places like Chicago, where her brother, also a recent alum, had settled. Several years ago, the New York network hosted a popular young alumni gala with a “Meet Me in St. Louis” theme, but venue issues forced the cancellation of a second edition. Looking to boost young alumni offerings in the city, Swimmer reached out to a member of the network, who suggested she help organize the gala’s relaunch.
On Sept. 6, alumni from classes 2011 through 2019 gathered at Capitale in the Bowery for the 2019 gala. Speaking before the event, Swimmer said she hoped the party would “bring people back to their college days.” Attendees enjoyed a live DJ and WashU-inspired hors d’oeuvres that included the fried culinary pride of St. Louis: toasted ravioli. In a clever nod to W.I.L.D., inflatable couches were set up throughout the grand event space for attendees seeking respite from the dance floor.
Swimmer, who is now the New York young alumni chair, hopes the gala will become a marquee event for the network. She also anticipates working with the New York alumni committee on expanding and diversifying the area’s young alumni programming to incorporate professional networking events as well as less formal happy hours and social outings.
Mixing and mingling, with a purpose
Jay Vaidya, BS ’18, aims to establish a healthy mix of casual and career-focused events for young WashU grads living in Seattle, where he is now the young alumni chair. In a city dominated by the tech industry, Vaidya is especially keen to draw together young alumni from across industries and pursuits. “So many young alumni are doing interesting things outside of their work and in the real world, and I’d really like to spotlight that,” he says.
For many young alumni, like Vaidya, Swimmer and Stein, assuming leadership roles and participating in local alumni networks are a means of giving back to their beloved alma mater. “WashU provided me with so many great resources,” Swimmer shares. “I want to continue to benefit from these outlets, while also helping others stay connected.”