Alumni Return to Sidwell for 2022 Reunion Weekend

The Sidwell Friends Alumni Reunions took place on May 12-14, uniting generations of former students from across the country and globe.

Sidwell faculty and staff worked hard to make alumni feel at home again, organizing lunches, teaching informal classes and distributing awards to distinguished alumni.

Classes reunite at events every five years, with some events drawing as many as 80 alumni from one grade. In recent years, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted these reunions.

Gautam Prakash ’87, who has now attended seven reunions, found that across all class reunions, there was a much smaller turnout, because of the pandemic.

The event lasted three days, commencing on May 12 with virtual, class-wide gatherings to include those unable to join in person.

“We [were] also trying to ensure that … in addition to the in-person events … there [were] also some virtual opportunities,” Director of Alumni Engagement Anna Wyeth said.

Prakash said that during his virtual reunion, the Class of 1987 shared clips of the Sidwell News Network, a TV program shown at assemblies when Prakash was a student.

On May 13, alumni arrived on campus. To celebrate 50 years since graduation, the Class of 1972 had a reunion lunch with Head of School Bryan Garman and Assistant Principal for Academic Affairs Robbie Gross before transitioning into discussions with former classmates. In the evening, classes gathered at homes, bars and restaurants to continue conversations.

The celebration continued on May 14, when the campus was open for breakfast, campus tours and classes taught by Sidwell faculty — for example, Upper School Principal Mamadou Guèye taught a class on student activism in French-occupied African states, Upper School Science Teacher Laura Barrosse-Antle taught forensics and Upper School History Teacher Silvana Niazi taught about change in Latin America.

In the late afternoon, alumni revisited the high school tradition of Meeting for Worship for the first time in years.

The daytime events were only one part of the reunion — after those events concluded, alumni held class afterparties.

Nearly half of the Class of 1987 attended a party held at Prakash’s home.

“It’s a good excuse to get the house in order and cleaned up, especially with the pandemic mess,” said Prakash, who has held these reunions for many years.

For him, as well as many other alumni, these afterparties have become a tradition to connect and celebrate with former classmates. While the daytime activities were for reminiscing and revisiting the campus, the informal nature of the evening afterparties allowed for connecting with friends.

“At the class dinner, you don’t have speakers, it’s not a structured event, it’s just everyone getting together for dinner, drinks and catching up,” Prakash said.

During the Class of 1987’s social impact meeting, alumni discussed ways in which they are involved in social impact through organizations that they have either founded or participated in. They also shared challenges that they have faced through their involvement in social justice issues.

Another key event is the distinguished alumni awards. Each year, Sidwell and the Friends Alumni Network Advisory Board bestow four Sidwell alumni with the prestigious Distinguished Alumni Award. This year’s recipients included Steve Woolpert ’62, Bill Johnson ’72, Kelsey Wirth ’87 and Katherine Tai ’92.

All four recipients have played major roles in their communities. A professor at Saint Mary’s, Woolpert has led sustainability efforts at the college and surrounding communities. Tai works in President Joe Biden’s cabinet as the 19th United States Trade Representative. Johnson is currently a physician, treating patients in D.C. Wirth founded Mothers Out Front, an organization focused on combatting climate change and has served on the board of environmental organizations.

For many alumni, these reunions are the only way to connect with former classmates and return to their old campus.

“Reconnecting every five years through these reunions definitely does build a sense of community,” Prakash said. “People will get back in email touch with each other, or … they’ll stop and visit … another classmate.”

Beyond fundraising and mentoring, these reunions give former students the opportunity to give back to the Sidwell community and to each other, such as by hosting afterparties or gatherings with friends.

“If you think about community … one part of our job as alums is to pay it forward,” Prakash said. “One of the powerful aspects of reunion is the shared experiences that we had as kids that no one else on the planet shares with us.”