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Bruin Tracks: Dinners Goes Global

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By Mark Davis

Published Oct 1, 2009 8:00 AM


What becomes a legend most? Worldwide outreach, naturally. And that is precisely the plan for a treasured UCLA tradition — Dinners for 12 Strangers.

More than 40 years ago during the turbulent 1960s, UCLA initiated the first series of Dinners for 12 Strangers as a way to bring students, alumni and faculty together. The program was an immediate success. As the years rolled by, schools all over the country took note and attempted their own versions.

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"Even before the first day of registration opens each year, students already are clambering to sign up," says David Stokes, senior manager, alumni outreach and engagement. "That speaks volumes for this tradition. It's been around for nearly half the university's history, and it's deeply entrenched in UCLA."

Because project included current students, the official Dinners for 12 Strangers always took place close to campus — usually within about a 30-minute drive from Westwood.

"Here we have this amazing tradition with UCLA built right into its DNA that brings people together," says Ralph Amos, CEO of the UCLA Alumni Association and assistant vice chancellor for Alumni Relations. "We took a fresh look at Dinners for 12 Strangers and asked how we might give it a new jolt of energy and make it accessible to alumni everywhere."

Though various Bruin alumni groups successfully have adopted the Dinners for 12 Strangers name and concept over the years, they remained individual efforts without an official connection to UCLA's program. They did, however, provide the necessary building blocks for creating a new global outreach and coordinating efforts for the same weekends.

"This is a great opportunity to empower our Alumni Networks to extend this tradition; this is something that makes UCLA what UCLA is," says Stokes. "It's exciting to know that all across the country — around the world — Bruins are participating in this same tradition."

The expansion also is "an opportunity to show how big the UCLA network is and that it extends far beyond Los Angeles," adds Angela Scales '03, project manager, student outreach and engagement. "In a day when so much social networking and communication happens online, Dinners for 12 Strangers is an intimate, organic way to connect with fellow Bruins and to strengthen those connections that already exist. It's an opportunity to see how the UCLA advantage continues long after commencement."

As the person responsible for coordinating student participation in Dinners for 12 Strangers, Scales points out how even dinners without students incorporate the spirit of the event.

"There is still the element of multiple generations of Bruins," she explains. "There is still a range of grad years across seven decades, sharing that common bond of UCLA. Many of the guests are still strangers — but only until they arrive at their dinner. That's where the real magic happens."

Dinners for 12 Strangers. Feb. 27, Feb. 28 or March 6. Various locations. To volunteer to be a representative for your area, contact Angela Scales at 310-206-2426, email Dinners@UCLAlumni.net or visit www.UCLAlumni.net/Dinners.

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