Reunion ambassadors: Looking back, looking forward
By Michelle Hibler
You may be a student for a brief time, but you’re an alumni for life.
That’s very much the mindset of Jean-Maurice Lafond, a communications lecturer at the University of Ottawa, La Cité Collégiale and the Université du Québec en Outaouais. Lafond has maintained close ties with uOttawa since graduating in 1976.
These ties make him the ideal ambassador for the 40th anniversary class reunion of students who graduated in social communication, which was then a joint program between Saint Paul University and uOttawa.
“At the time, we were only a few dozen students, small groups really,” he says. “We were lucky.”
That closeness is also what Aida Stratas cherishes about her time as a graduate student completing a master’s degree in world literatures and cultures, the first of its kind in Canada, in 2015. She is one of only 11 members of the fourth cohort of this interdisciplinary program that brings together several areas of study, ranging from media to sociolinguistics. Her “wonderful” experience led her to volunteer as an ambassador for her class’s one-year reunion.
These and other reunions will be a highlight of Alumni Week 2016, which takes place at uOttawa from April 30 to May 7. This year, the focus will be on smaller classes and programs, such as those of Lafond and Stratas.
Given that their classes are separated by nearly 40 years, it’s not surprising that the two ambassadors are taking different tacks.
“Obviously, at university we’re close to one another, we develop great friendships,” Lafond says. “But once we graduate, we go our own way and lose sight of one another. Over time, some friendships grow apart, but when we get back together, we rekindle a whole range of emotions.”
“What I like about reunions is meeting former professors that we appreciated — though not necessarily at the time,” he jokes, “as well as our classmates. Even if we don’t see one another, we share so many memories. It’s not how often we meet that counts, really, but the depth of those friendships.”
Lafond likes to remember the past. “I cherish my memories,” he says. “I love reminiscing about times long past, like my university days, because, for me, it was unforgettable, a privilege.”
Memories are not enough, however. He believes that people are made up of two things: memories and dreams.
“Being 60 or 62 years’ old doesn’t mean that you don’t have plans for the future.” So for him, “just to gather as alumni, to ask where you come from, what you’ve been doing, isn’t the most appealing part. I think that the opportunity to learn, to be exposed to new ideas is the most engaging aspect of these reunions.”
Aida Stratas has the social side in mind as she looks forward to the one-year reunion of her master’s program.
“It’s going to be fun, fun, fun,” she says. Because her graduating class is small, the reunion is open to all the program’s alumni and their spouses. Professors and administrative staff are also invited.
“What made the program amazing was the support of the staff and professors,” she says. “Getting the help, the attention we needed to succeed was the most important thing. And when you’re working with wonderful people, you’re making friends in the class because it’s so small, you feel like you’re a family.”
These friendships have continued to blossom as students keep in touch with one another, largely through social media. “It’s very positive,” Stratas says. “You can meet one another more easily when you have an idea of what’s going on in their lives.”
“Because of the world culture and literature focus of the program, I think I will do a world theme and put on music and food from different parts of the world,” she says. “I hope this event will make people who are attending, who studied in the program, feel good about what they’ve achieved and remember the people who helped them at the faculty and at the University.”
“I also hope they keep in touch with one another, that we can always maintain that relationship, a life-long relationship with the University.”
Stratas greatly values that connection. “I’ve been here for seven years and absolutely love being at the University. It makes me happy that I’m in the right place.” And it’s still her place today: she currently works in marketing at the Faculty of Arts, an opportunity that opened up when she volunteered to organize her class reunion.
Both Stratas and Lafond are keen to have their classmates contact them. For both ambassadors, the reunions will be a celebration of what was, what is, and what will be.
Check the list of Alumni Week class and affinity reunions. If your group is not listed, be sure to contact the Alumni Relations Office at 613-562-5857 or 1-800-465-1888.
Aida Stratas, pictured in front of Alex Trebek Alumni Hall, will gather with her peers from the MA World Literatures and Cultures, Class of 2015. Photo: Robert Lacombe