Students + Campus

Guess who came to dinner? They're strangers no longer

Dinner for 12 Strangers, organized by Alumni Affairs, drew together Bruins of all ages in 30 states and 23 countries

Dinner for 12 Strangers
Tunrayo Tosin-Oni/UCLA

Students, alumni and faculty members share cameraderie and conversation at a dinner hosted by UCLA alumna Susan Pauly and her husband, Drew, at their home in Los Angeles.

UCLA alumna Lecia Rothman happily found herself with more than just dinner guests when she decided to host a Dinner for 12 Strangers last month at her home in Miami, Florida, continuing a beloved UCLA tradition that began 49 years ago.

Rothman discovered she now had her own cheer squad of new friends with whom she can watch Bruin basketball games on TV.   

“Coincidentally, the basketball team was playing Arizona that night,” Rothman recalled of that night. “I usually don't have any fellow Bruins to watch with. We all agreed that we wanted the community to watch together, so we'll keep in touch and continue to do so!”    

Rothman’s experience illustrates what can happen when 12 strangers, connected only by their affiliation with UCLA as alumni, students, staff and faculty members, come together at private homes across the country — and around the world — for a congenial evening of food, conversation and fun buoyed by Bruin spirit. 

Over two recent weekends, Dinner for 12 Strangers, organized each year by UCLA Alumni Affairs, took place in 400 locations in 30 states and 23 countries, giving Bruins the opportunity to celebrate their common UCLA history and shared bond. In actuality, dinner guests hosted by one or two people ranged from four to 24 at any one event.

In the L.A. area, nearly 250 alumni hosts welcomed 2,000 UCLA students and 70 faculty members to dinner, while beyond California’s borders, more than 250 alumni greeted approximately 1,500 fellow Bruins in cities that ranged from Anchorage, Alaska, to Seoul, South Korea, and Seville, Spain.

While California was, as you can expect, the most popular state for alumni dinners, the spirit of Dinner for 12 Strangers was felt for first time at homes in Malmok, Aruba; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Queenstown, New Zealand; as well as Omaha, Nebraska; and Madison, Wisconsin.

The tradition of hosting dinners to foster spirit, strengthen ties and maintain a connective spark among Bruins began in 1968 with two dinners that were held in response to a need to come together during a rough period of civil unrest. Faculty, students and alumni sought common ground where they could articulate diverse viewpoints during a difficult time in U.S. history.

For most of its own history, the dinners were held for students and alumni who lived in the vicinity of the campus. Eight years ago, the program expanded regionally and internationally.

Its growing popularity comes from the stimulating conversations and warm and comfortable camaraderie that dinner guests and hosts embrace.

Host Nico Gervasoni, a 2015 graduate, was excited to meet a fourth-year engineering student who had just turned 18 in the fall. “He skipped four grades and has a post-grad job already locked up. That's incredible,” Gervasoni marveled.

“Bruins of all stripes and ages are incredible people,” the alumnus continued. “Simply put, I felt proud. I felt proud to not only welcome fellow Bruins into my home, but to also meet bright, intelligent and engaging people. UCLA's community of students, faculty and alumni is second to none, and having a little slice of that in my home is something I'm truly grateful for.”

Walter Paulsen, who earned an M.B.A. at UCLA Anderson in 1989, hosted his first Dinner for 12 Strangers last week, and is now looking forward to going to another next year.

“It was a wonderful, diverse, engaging evening that reminded everyone of why we love being Bruins,” Paulsen said. The invitees represented a wide age range, from 24 to 62, and diverse fields, from law to business. There were undergrads and graduate students, he said. “Everyone had a unique perspective about what UCLA had meant to them.”

Lively conversations around the dinner table at Paulsen’s home bounced from one topic to the next, touching on sexism in Silicon Valley, the Trump administration, how to find top quality day care, startup opportunities with the legalization of cannabis and speculation on the Bruins’ chances in the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament. 

“It was a warm, fun, lively evening,” Paulsen recalled, “and we look forward to attending another UCLA Dinner for 12 Strangers next year.”

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