Old Stithian International Reunions 2022
In 2018 the Advancement Office first began intentionally connecting with Saints alumni in London. This was based on our alumni database which showed that outside of Gauteng where most of our 11 000 alumni still live, London was the place where the second highest concentration of our alumni reside either for studying or work. Several attempts had been made on an ad-hoc basis to connect with these alumni by the Old Stithian Association with varying degrees of success, but no strategic long-term connecting had resulted. The purpose of these visits is threefold:
- To provide a platform for the school to connect with our Saints alumni and to keep them updated about developments at the school.
- For our alumni to connect with each other and to introduce newer alumni to older alumni.
- To find ways to utilise the skills, experience, and contacts that our alumni have acquired, and to create opportunities for mentorship, work opportunities, partnerships, and various other connections.
- To seek funding for scholarships, special projects, the Saints and Thandulwazi Endowment Fund and the 75 by 75 campaign.
In 2018 based on recommendations from other South African schools we used the RAF Club as a venue. David van der Walt (Saints 1982) attended that event and as the then CEO of Investec PLC in London, he invited us to use the Investec Rooftop Terrace for our next event. In 2019 we hosted a very successful event at the Investec Offices and had a sense that we were gaining traction. With the Covid enforced hiatus in 2020 and 2021 we feared we had lost some momentum but continued to forge ahead based on the positive response to our 2019 visit.
We had booked ahead of time in 2020 to return to London and when that was cancelled due to Covid we used our 2020 flight vouchers and for a small add-on, were able to include a flight to the United States. We already have three significant donors on the east coast of the United States and numerous alumni whom we have not been in contact with, so this was an opportunity to begin that connecting.
Now that we have returned from the 2022 visit and have met 152 alumni in 9 days it is clear that our Saints alumni want to hear from us and appreciate our connecting with them. We met with newly graduated students looking for work to highly accomplished academics, actors, business leaders, doctors, engineers, and so many others impacting positively on every sphere of civic and civil society. Some of what I have gleaned from connecting with our alumni include:
What is true of all our meetings with alumni is that St Stithians College can be very proud of their alumni, not only for their considerable achievements but more importantly for who they have become and who they are. There is something special about Saints alumni that suggests that they know themselves and are making their contribution. An interesting factor when looking at our alumni database is that more than half our alumni are younger than 40. Our first matric class of 1956 turn 84 this year. Nine of the twelve Class of 1956 matriculants are still alive.
There is no set career path as the variety of choices, qualifications, experiences, and achievements are infinite. However, there seems to be a shared set of values and a real desire to “make a world of difference.”
The alumni we met in the United States understand and support the culture of giving back to their schools and universities, more so than our South African and United Kingdom alumni.
St Stithians is a very young school which has made great strides in its short but significant history and our alumni bear testimony to the value of a good education.
David Arendse, Chair of the Old Stithian Association welcomed everyone to the event and provided a short update about OSA and the school. He reminded the alumni of the importance of these events to keep the connection with the school and each other strong. He spoke of the desire to use technology to keep alumni connected.
Alistair Stewart then took the floor and spoke about the work that the Advancement Team and Thandulwazi are doing. A video with recent footage of the school was shown (click here to view) and a large round of applause was received in support of the fundraising work. Our alumni expressed their gratitude that we were able to continue with the event despite the challenges
A special word of thanks must go to Gary Clarence, Craig Risley and Jo Tilley from Investec for their assistance with the venue and ensuring our event went ahead despite the strike hurdles.
Each visit also brings special surprises, for example, previously finding out that Gavin Hood (1980) was not the first Saints alumnus to win an Academy Award and that John Blair (1967) was awarded an Oscar in 1983 and subsequently went on to win Emmy, Bafta and Grammy awards, and on this trip we discovered that Shau Mafuna was not out first Formula One engineer; Anthony Abbot (1984) was the Principal Architect for the Red Bull Formula One Team when Sebastian Vettel won 38 Formula One Grand Prix and four World Driver Championships.
In the United States we met Gary Howe (1984) at the Reunion at the South African Consulate and found out that he had recently been made the Head of Global Banking for the Bank of America; to put that into perspective, last year the Bank of America was rated as the second largest bank in the world. Gary was very humble about his achievements and invited us to join him for breakfast to discuss long term sustainable fundraising and endowments. Another interesting meeting was with a young alumnus Afika Nyati whose sister is in the Girls’ College. Afika has recently graduated from MIT in Boston with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and has launched his company Verascope in New York. His interest is in using technology to transform education specifically in the STEM subjects to make it more accessible to more children. He is rethinking how story-driven subjects can be taught through the use of video games as a learning medium; allowing educators to scale their teaching of subjects further and evaluate their learners’ understanding more effectively, allowing for better engagement without compromising the fun of learning. Ideas were shared as to how his research into augmented and virtual reality could be used in rural and underprivileged educations settings. Kineta Kunutu is another alumna who is making an impression on Broadway and on television in the United States, having recently graduated from Yale University; her most recent show is ‘Gimme a Break’.
The time in the United States also included a visit to one of our committed American donors, Dr Cyril Clarke the Provost of Virginia Tech University. This incredibly worthwhile visit included a tour of the Virginia Tech campus where Dr Clarke and his wife Jean showed me around the Campus and shared information on their Advancement Office and their numerous multifaceted initiatives. The Advancement Office of Virginia Tech is a large machine that has been a vital part of the University for over 100 years, and it raises millions each year. It was good to know that although by comparison we at Saints we are just getting started, we are on the right track. Their four-point focus is on; securing resources that will enhance the academic quality of the institution, promoting public understanding of and support for Virginia Tech, enhancing the perception and knowledge of various publics of the university's programs and accomplishments, creating a positive public impression of the university and its faculty, students, and programs. Virginia Tech, like Saints, has just begun another campaign and they are launching it with this video: https://give.vt.edu/contact.html
These are just five of the many stories of our amazing alumni and their astounding achievements which they so enjoy sharing with us. There are so many other stories too numerous to include in a web story and each one connects us with our alumni who really appreciate us making the effort to connect with them and hear their stories of how they are making a world of difference.
An interesting financial and philosophical question arises out of connecting with our Saints alumni and gaining insight into their achievements. If the R354 000 donated by Collins and Mountstephens had been invested in stocks and shares in 1953, what would it be worth now and how would it compare with the contribution and value of our 11 000 alumni, and the future value of our current students and those still to enroll? It is a moot point but what is undeniable is that the greatest returns on any investment rest in the investment in people. Benjamin Franklin was correct when he said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."
We are extremely grateful to Julia Phipps and Caitlyn Loneon for going above and beyond in their planning to ensure that all the events and meetings in London and New York were so well supported and attended, and so successful.
#InpsiringExcellence #MakingAWorldOfDifference #PurposeInspired #PassionDriven #StrongerOneAndAll #OnceASaintAlwaysASaint