When I was an undergraduate at the University of Washington, I loved going to Jon Bridgman’s history lectures. His World War II lectures were magnificent. You lived those stories. The classes taught by Bridgman—the legendary UW history professor and longtime friend to the UW Alumni Association—were the ones students never slept through. He was that good.
Every winter for 15 years, Bridgman delivered powerful and thought-provoking lectures at night to sold-out crowds of alumni through the UWAA’s History Lecture Series. Dad would get tickets and we would sit near the front of Kane Hall. I remember turning around and seeing 800 alumni who had come back to campus in the cold and rain to continue their learning and celebrate this renowned faculty member.
At 20 years old, I thought to myself, ‘How extraordinary it was that so many alumni were so passionate and committed to the university—and if the UW could harness the energy and commitment in that room to support higher education and public service, what a tremendous force.’ It was an experience I will never forget.
Here we are 25 years later and I’m leading the UW Alumni Association. I am as fervently committed to that premise today as I was back then. In fact, it’s that very premise that goes back 125 years to the founding of the UWAA. As I looked around Kane Hall and saw all of that intellectual energy, I realized there was something unique about this body of alumni. It wasn’t just a history lecture series to those of us at Bridgman’s talk, just like it’s not only a football game today. Every time we gather as alumni, it’s a chance for us to come forward and say, ‘This is our university and we want it to transform the lives of future generations of students.’ It’s about higher education and the difference an organized alumni community makes at the UW. That’s what the UWAA stands for. I have never stopped being curious and committed to discovery, and I love how the UWAA gives me opportunities to do that as part of a community. Supporting our university is not a singular, solitary expression. It takes a community, just like it took a community to start the UW in 1861. The visionaries of our pioneer city knew this institution would be a catalyst for change and growth. Ever since then, alumni have believed in the transformative power of the University of Washington.
As we celebrate the UWAA’s 125th anniversary, I challenge you to become an advocate and ambassador for the UW. Be a UWAA member. Get involved. Share your commitment to supporting higher education with your friends and in your neighborhoods. Just look at the headlines. None of us can take the UW for granted, especially if we want a UW degree to hold the same meaning for future students as it does for us today. The UWAA is making a difference and is at the forefront of the effort to maintain the UW’s excellence and accessibility.
Don’t be passive. We can say it’s just a degree or only where we went to school. But that is not sufficient. We are the permanent custodians of this university, and every day we are defining what it means to be a UW alum.
State budget cuts, rising tuition costs—there is a lot at stake right now. This university needs you, and for 125 years generations of alumni have come forward to face the UW’s biggest challenges together. Now, it’s our turn. I know we are ready.