We didn’t exactly know what sort of evening to expect when Taryn Cooksey ’08–who was visiting Philly from Atlanta–and I entered Solstice Restaurant at Loews Philadelphia Hotel for an Oglethorpe alumni reception. Would we be the only young alumni there? Would we be overdressed? Would we even be able to find a parking spot in Center City so close to City Hall?
All those anxieties were for nothing, of course, because as soon as we got there, we were swept into conversation with alumni who shared a formative undergraduate experience with us and who live and work and play in the same city as me. It would have been hard to populate a room with people who had more in common with each other!
Bahar Shariati ’02 dropped by to chat before returning to late-night bowling with colleagues at her law firm. We had both lived in Traer and could laugh about the ups and downs of communal living with college freshmen in a building with a courtyard. But that evening for the first time I realized that the sense of community I experienced while I was living on campus also extends beyond Oglethorpe’s front gate. As the wife of one alumnus exclaimed, “I went to Penn State, but whenever we go to Oglethorpe alumni events, it seems like he knows everyone in the room.”
We chatted about our hopes that the new president of Drexel University, where my roommates are enrolled in graduate programs, would rejuvenate the West Philadelphia neighborhoods surrounding Drexel in the same way that ties between the communities of Lancaster, PA and Franklin & Marshall College were strengthened under his leadership. It was fascinating to hear the perspectives of other Philly residents about how institutions of higher education interface with the development of neighborhood communities.
During the reception, Director of Alumni Relations Barbara Henry ’85 introduced Taryn and me to Aimee Thrasher-Hanson ’98 who was recently promoted to manager of a branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. As branch manager, Aimee is in charge of the maintenance of a historic Carnegie library building, as well as serving a diverse population of people with a variety of information needs. Taryn and I, an aspiring archivist and librarian respectively, were heartened to meet someone who had so recently entered and advanced in the field–and what’s more, someone who views librarianship as arguably an activist profession. It seemed to me a strikingly Oglethorpian approach to information science.
Lately, whenever I meet a fellow twenty-something, whether I’m taking the Market-Frankford el in Philly or hanging out at a dive bar on H Street in DC, it seems like we wind up commiserating about how much more difficult it is to meet people and develop friendships after graduating from college, when the social network we’d known for four years disperses and no new one immediately takes its place. What I’m starting to realize after attending the alumni reception in Philadelphia is that every Oglethorpe alumnus has a built-in social network of fascinating people with common experiences and common interests. I don’t know where I’ll land after Philadelphia, but I can’t wait to meet more Oglethorpe alumni when I get there.