This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Dinner with 12 strangers is a feast for friends

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what's on my mind

“Come to my home for a meal, wonderful conversation and fun!” That’s the theme and mission for an evening of Dinner for 12 Strangers, a program run by the UCLA Alumni Association, which invites students to meet a cross-section of Bruins. These informal dinners are held annually in March and April and are hosted by people who have had significant contact with UCLA. One can expect to entertain students from a broad spectrum of the campus community as well as staff, faculty and alumni.

I have attended several of these dinners and was honored to host two at my home. The guests arrive with gusto and come armed with gifts of smiles, enthusiastic conversation and sometimes food or wine. They eagerly fit in, finding comfortable seating and easy communication between themselves and their host.

The first dinner that I hosted was coincidentally on the same weekend that the play “Dinner with Friends” by Donald Margulies received the Pulitzer Prize. People first feasted on pre-dinner treats of sushi, cheese, fruit and vegetables. To break the ice, my husband initiated a game of croquet on the front lawn. Then, my guests got to know each other better over dishes of salad, rolls and lasagna — with a vegetarian version for those who preferred that alternative.

After dinner, the guests gravitated to the living room for dessert and conversation, which ranged from classes and extracurricular activities to politics. At my first attempt as host, the dinner guests lingered until past 11 p.m. As the evenings progress, we become more like the title of Margulies’ play — friends. Sometimes those attending will call with invitations to visit their home for a meal and continued conversation.

One interesting situation occurred when I was invited to a Dinner for 12 Strangers in Hollywood. Only men attended the dinner! When my daughter was young, I would go to these events alone. After she went off to college, my husband said he would come with me to the next dinner. I was glad my husband attended the Hollywood party as I was the only invited female guest. The food was exceptional, consisting of German goulash. It was a fun evening of talk about travels to faraway countries and about student life. Several had been to Germany. I had visited southern Germany in 1988 and Dresden in 1993. We spoke enthusiastically about the country and its people. Since that time, I have seen the host of that Hollywood party, and we’ve exchanged warm phrases and smiles.

Another was at the home of the daughter of Stan Berman, the owner of Stan’s Donuts in Westwood Village. There was a great selection of wines and finger foods and a wonderful meal, with Stan’s donuts for dessert!

Consider hosting a Dinner for 12 Strangers. It’s an exciting way to make friends. And students are like jewels — they brighten up your life and give purpose and meaning to your conversation and thoughts.

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