Highlights from the mid-career class of 1995

Reunion was different this year. With the pandemic making it impossible to meet in person, activities were held online, including a plenary session with Ron Heifetz, King Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School. In addition, HKS alumni volunteers stepped up and offered programming for their classmates, with many alumni participating in class-specific activities.

Thanks to the alumni who volunteered their time to create special memories with their classmates, albeit at a distance. The following article was written by Gregg Fields and Marideth Sandler, both MC/MPA 1995. They shared news about their virtual Reunion.

Nearly Half of the MC/MPA Class of 1995 Meets Virtually for Its 25th Reunion

In the words of the great Aretha Franklin: Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

The answer: The HKS MC/MPA class of 1995, that’s who.

Waylaid by the pandemic, the 25th Reunion of (in our view) the greatest MC/MPA class ever, took place as scheduled Sunday, May 17, 2020, with an agenda and a crowd whose enthusiasm would have done the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum proud. Ninety of our surviving 191 classmates from all parts of the globe attended the four-hour-plus event, with a sizeable group engaging in discussion for another 90 minutes in good HKS tradition.

For many in the virtual crowd, our Reunion provided a renewed sense of commitment to what drew us to the Kennedy School in the first place: To learn how to help make the world a better place.

“Most importantly, we can all be with each other, even if we are continents apart, and hold out for hope, screen by screen,” classmate Francisco Arocha Hernandez later wrote.

Plenary sessions

The virtual Reunion got off to a strong start earlier in the week, with a Zoom town hall address on Wednesday, May 13, by Dean Douglas Elmendorf.

Then, Professor Ron Heifetz, in a special address to all Reunion classes, dialed in from Hawaii on Saturday, May 16, to discuss “Leadership: Personal Adaptation and Resilience”— clearly a subject of special relevance in today’s chaotic world.

Heifetz talked about the importance of how to maintain individual resilience in today’s highly uncertain world. “The first suggestion I have in terms of maintaining our sense of resilience is remembering not to forget what you learned when you were a student—which is how to be a student,” he said. “And when you were students—some of you struggled. It’s very hard to stop being a professional, and hard to give yourself the freedom—a luxury, really—of just being a student. All you had to do was learn.”

Hours of volunteer time lead to a successful event

Heifetz’s presentation preceded what would be a very special 25th anniversary Reunion for the MC/MPA Class of 1995 the next day, where we revisited the luxury of learning, not just academic subjects, but also what our former classmates were up to.

It was an impressive and impressively organized event. In under four weeks, the Reunion organizing committee and two working groups comprising nearly 30 MC/MPA 1995 grads prepared and assembled all the moving parts. That’s a tough task under normal circumstances, but all the more difficult when the planners and attendees happen to be flung across five continents and additional island countries located in multiple time zones.

Sue Klaseus co-led the planning efforts, doing a masterful job herding and weaving multiple agenda parts into a cohesive and exciting whole. Jennifer Blood from Australia led the charge with a wildly popular idea, an updated class picture book. The bios and updated photos began pouring in. Marideth Sandler added many of the bios and photos into the book while tracking down lost classmates, assisted by a bevy of class detectives. And Peter Buijs and Sandler communicated with our class regularly to keep everyone aware of the latest developments. In addition, Buijs used his Zoom wizardry to create and produce the events. He later shared with all 1995 MC/MPA alumni a selection of Zoom photos as well as the full Zoom recording, so even those who could not attend or were there for only part of the Reunion could have a chance to reconnect with classmates and partake in the quality thought and discussion that occurred.

It was truly a team effort!

Connecting with classmates

Lest anyone thinks Reunion was all about scholarly instruction, one vital feature was starting the day with small-group Zoom-room interactions that allowed classmates to catch up on 25 years (in five minutes or fewer). A common thread from virtually all of our class: HKS functioned for many as a reset button that unleashed rewarding new chapters in our lives. It also gave us a precious, year-long opportunity to reach across our cultures, professions, and perspectives to understand, learn from, and truly enjoy being together.

During the event, our class also commemorated the 17 class members we’ve lost. That was followed by a heartfelt musical composition, “The New Normal,” by Kamuron Gurol, whose guitar was accompanied by Sandy Scott on harmonica.

Discussing timely issues

Mike Gordon moderated a panel featuring a presentation by fellow classmate Peter Neffenger, former head of the Transportation Security Administration under President Barack Obama, on “Leading Through Times of Chaos,” which was followed by a presentation by Ricardo Hausmann, Rafik Hariri Professor of the Practice of International Political Economy, on “Reflection on the Developing Countries’ COVID-19 Frontlines.” Next, Jeffrey Sachs, director at Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development discussed “Will Covid-19 Divide or Unite the World? Some Reflections on History, Politics, and Finance.”

After Sachs’s presentation and questions, Karole Dill Barkley and Elias Freig unveiled a list of vetted group of COVID-19 response organizations to which classmates could contribute resources.

Not waiting another five years

None of our classmates who attended the May 17 Reunion thought we should wait another five years to regather. Instead, a classmate poll taken at the Reunion’s close revealed that the majority want to meet, learn, and discuss together COVID-19 and other pressing issues this fall.

Let it be said: Nothing would have been better than seeing everyone in Cambridge in May. Let it also be said: What the organizers assembled virtually and classmates overwhelmingly responded with was a strong affirmation of the values HKS instilled in the very special MC/MPA Class of 1995.