Category Archives: Alumni Weekend

Getting a Start in Political Polling Thanks to Frank Luntz

In what is now a Penn 1993 reunion tradition, Frank Luntz, C’84, and Jef Pollock, C’93, will engage in a panel discussion on the state of politics – and polling in America on Saturday morning of Alumni Weekend.

How did this magical pairing happen? Let’s let Jef tell the story…

I’ve told this story so many times, I can hardly remember life at Penn without Frank Luntz, then an adjunct Professor in the American Civilization department.  And I’ll try the short version. Frank had just gotten his doctorate as a Thouron scholar at Oxford University where he had written his dissertation turned book, “Candidates, Consultants, and Campaigns” which became the essential reading for his first class at Penn. His class was a 3-hour class taught on Monday nights from 6:00 – 9:00 PM. Every week, he would bring in a different guest lecturer, and to those of us who loved politics as I did, it was like a greatest hits listing of all the best political consultants of the time – Bob Shrum, Stan Greenberg, Alex Castellanos, Paul Begala, and on and on. They lectured for the first half, and then the second half was all him. We would argue, debate, and talk about politics.  As a Conservative Republican, Frank was a fish out of water in the classroom (just as he had been when he was at Penn as an undergrad years before), surrounded by tons of idealistic Democrats and a few die-hard Republicans riveted by the passion that he brought to the classroom.

Frank Luntz and Jef Pollock #93tothe25th

Frank Luntz (standing) and Jef Pollock (sitting in front) during Penn 1993’s 20th reunion in 2013 discussing politics and polling

After class, many of us would head to Smokey Joe’s where Frank would gladly buy dinner for those who were willing to go out (many of us just wanted the free food/drinks). Frank would sit at the bar for hours and hours and debate any student who wanted to tangle with him. He was the first American head of the Oxford Debating society, and he viewed intellectual debate as essential for learning. He could be pro-choice or anti-choice, pro-Israel or anti, it didn’t matter It was just about debate. It also helped that he wouldn’t drink at the bar while the rest of us were slightly more interested in the alcoholic content of the debate.

After the bar would close at 2:00 AM, a group of us would head out to IHOP, then at 19th and Walnut streets, where the debate would continue. Frank would order a T-bone steak (his healthy eating habits are legendary and remain in place today), we would eat pancakes. And we’d be out till the wee hours of the night.

Finally, when the night was over, we would head back to campus where Frank would crash on a couch (his cheap nature is also legendary!) and when we would wake up the next day at noon for class, he was gone. And this went on for three years.

In 1992, he took a group of us to New Hampshire to experience the New Hampshire primaries up close. It was one of the best experiences of my life. If you lived and breathed politics, that was the trip to be on – we met the candidates, walked around with notebooks pretending we were reporters, one of us even asked a question of Paul Tsongas in a candidate forum. Here’s a photo from that trip of me having lunch at a mall in New Hampshire with Hillary Clinton, where we just happened to walk into her, and so Frank asked her to have lunch with us!

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton Penn AmCiv class

Jef Pollock eating lunch with Hillary Rodham Clinton

This was academics the way Frank wanted it – experience it and touch it, not just to read it.  He got me and others summer internships in Washington with some of the people we idolized. And then for me, he took it away (without asking me) telling Bob Shrum that I wouldn’t be coming and instead sending Josh Frank in my place. He was hiring me for himself and thus began my life with Frank. I worked for him (we agreed, no GOP work, only corporate and international) from 1992-1994.

Frank Luntz and Jef Pollock political polling

Jef Pollock and Frank Luntz leading a political polling discussion during our 20th Reunion in 2013

In November of 1994, Frank became a rock star, having written the GOP Contract With America. The Republicans took over Congress for the first time in 40 years and Frank was viewed as the author of that win. I knew I couldn’t stay with him given my own partisan leanings, and off I went to NYC to follow my girlfriend (now wife Deborah Brown!) and to get my Master’s degree at Columbia. In addition, I wanted to start my own firm specializing in polling to help Democrats.

During my time with Luntz as an employee, one of my main clients was Governor Pedro Rossello of Puerto Rico. Frank had worked in Puerto Rico for years for the PNP, the pro-Statehood party, that had for years been identified with the Republican party – but when Rossello won, a friendship with Bill Clinton led him to announce he was a Democrat, and it became the perfect client for Frank and me together. Most impressively, when I moved to NYC, Frank let me keep working for Rossello – paying me a retainer to stay involved, and even keep a percentage of the revenue from the polling we did together. Anyone knows the hardest part of starting a business is not having any revenue – and Frank solved that problem for me. I had a new business, with revenue, and it was the start that I needed.

Today, I run one of the largest Democratic Public Affairs firms in the country, doing more polling for Democratic federal candidates in the last election than any other firm. And I wouldn’t be here without that first class, that mentorship, and that first job with Frank Luntz. I am forever grateful to Frank and to the University of Pennsylvania for all the opportunities they gave to me that have led to my success.

Frank Luntz political panel #93tothe25th

Frank Luntz engages with the audience during the politics and polling panel, May 2013

So, come and join us, Saturday May 12th, at 9:30 AM in Houston Hall.Come see us argue and talk about the destructive politics that have captured our nation. We put on a heck of a show, with laughs, data, videos, and a lot of jokes in between. We hope to see you there.

Politics and Polling – Discussion with Jef Pollock, C’93, and Frank Luntz, C’84

9:30 AM – 10:30 AM  |  Houston Hall, 3417 Spruce Street
The Class of 1993’s regular reunion discussion with pollster (and former Penn professor/lecturer) Frank Luntz, C’84 and democratic pollster Jef Pollock, C’93, CEO of Global Strategies Group. Frank and Jef will have a frank discussion about measuring the electorate prior to the elections, national and local trends, and what to look for in the mid-term elections later this year.

Penn Class of 1993 25th Reunion #93tothe25th

Penn Class of 1993 25th Reunion Countdown

The weekend of March 23 – 24, marked 7 weeks until the 25th Reunion of the Penn Class of 1993 (May 11 – 14, 2018)! Meet us at the Button!

Register NOW to attend our 25th Reunion!

Join us we count down the weeks to our reunion #93tothe25th:

  • Follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.
  • Classmates are invited to join our Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
  • Donate to The Penn Fund in honor of our reunion! We want to break the 25th reunion participation giving record and every gift matters!
  • Do you have old photos or mementos from our time at Penn? Photos of Spring Fling? Football at Franklin Field? Classes at DRL? We are taking a trip down memory lane and would love for you to share your memories with our class in a future post. Please email us!
  • Book your hotel room or AirBnB now! See our class website for details.











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Filed under 25th Reunion, Alumni Weekend, Class of 1993, Kiera R.

Family Traditions at Penn

By: Lindsey Klinger-O’Donnell

Virginia Webster Hilligoss Patton, CW’67, recently returned to campus for a very special Alumni Weekend. Virginia celebrated her 50th Reunion and spent the weekend reminiscing and catching up with fellow classmates, alumni, and her three siblings. She spoke with Penn Alumni Relations about her college experience, fondest memories, and family connections to Penn.

Virginia is the youngest of four siblings. Her two older brothers, Spencer Webster, W’57, and Richard Webster, W’58, and older sister, Linda Webster Huggler, CW’62, all attended Penn in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. From an early age, Virginia felt a strong impetus to not only attend college but specifically the University of Pennsylvania. With such strong family ties to the University, Penn was really the only choice in her mind. While at Penn, Virginia and her sister were student-athletes, playing on the Women’s Field Hockey team. They were also members of the Tri Delta Sorority. They still value the strong friendships and bonds they made there.

Although Virginia grew up in Suburban Philadelphia with her family, she later moved to California and does not have an opportunity to return to campus often. This made Virginia’s homecoming to Penn even more meaningful. She remarked on how much the campus has changed, with so many new buildings and spaces. However, some buildings remained seemingly untouched, like the iconic architecture of Houston Hall, with its comfortable interior spaces and fireplaces. Virginia commented that Houston Hall had always been a common meeting place for her and her classmates. In that regard, not much has changed.

Virginia went on to share one of her most memorable moments from her time at Penn. In her Senior year, Virginia became the first woman to sit on an athletic board when she took on the role of President of Women’s Athletics. Virginia remembers advocating to an all-male board about the need for better facilities and equipment for Women’s Athletics. However, it’s safe to assume that after Alumni Weekend, one of Virginia’s fondest memories of Penn is probably this photo of her and her three siblings enjoying the Alumni Picnic. What a special moment it must have been to come back and share in this Penn Tradition together.


(Photo credit: Lisa Godfrey Photography)

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Filed under Alumni Profile, Alumni Weekend, Uncategorized

What Happens at Alumni Weekend? (49 Weeks To Go)

By Kiera Reilly, C’93

The clock is ticking, and our 25th reunion will be here before we know it (May 11 – 14, 2018). This week, we received the link to our class’  hotel room block for the weekend, and we encourage you to make your room reservations now as hotels are often completely booked. You can book by clicking this link or you can also call (800) 320-5744 to book over the phone.

What exactly happens on those four days of Penn Alumni Weekend? Here is a preview of what to expect. We will have more details on our class’ specific programming closer to May, but we want to give you time to consider joining us for the entire weekend!

Friday, May 11

Educational Programming is during the day. This is also a great time to walk around campus and see what has changed since we graduated. For our 20th reunion, our class sponsored a discussion on political campaign messaging with Jef Pollock, C’93, and Frank Luntz, C’84.

Friday night we will most likely be gathering downtown for a later night party. Here’s a picture from our Friday night gathering in 2013 at the Marriott Hotel.

Penn 1993 20th Reunion Friday night for University of Pennsylvania Alumni Weekend photo by Kiera Reilly, C'93.

Penn 1993 20th Reunion Friday night.

Saturday, May 12

There are additional educational programs in the morning, and there is always a, “Conversation with President Gutmann.”

"A Conversation with Penn President Amy Gutmann," in Huntsman Hall during Alumni Weekend, 2013.

“A Conversation with Penn President Amy Gutmann,” in Huntsman Hall during Alumni Weekend, 2013.

In the afternoon, there is the Alumni Parade of Classes and the Alumni Picnic. There are kid friendly activities for children.

Kid Zone activities from our 20th reunion in May, 2013, followed by pictures of the Alumni Parade. You can see more photos from Alumni Weekend, 2013 in this online photo album from Penn Alumni Relations.

The picnic tent is always crowded. Here are photos from our 20th reunion again.

Saturday night will be our big reunion party. Here our photos from our 20th reunion party. You can see more photos of the party here.

Sunday, May 13

There is an all-alumni breakfast in the morning.

Monday, May 14

Commencement – there is always an alumni procession for commencement, and the graduates walk through the alumni flag bearers that line up in front of the Sweeten Alumni House on Locust Walk. The 25th and 50th reunion classes are both invited to walk in the procession as a class. This is something I highly recommend you do if you can – seeing the graduates march down Locust Walk brings back many happy memories from our own graduation.

Here are some photos from the alumni procession during Commencement.

Join Us!

You are welcome to return for everything we have planned or you can pick which activities interest you the most. You can come alone, you can bring your spouse or partner – or leave them at home, you can bring your kids, or leave them at home. All are welcome!

We are still adding to our ever-growing reunion committee and would love to have more classmates join us. Email Lisa Grabelle at if you would like to add your name to the committee. We will be gathering on campus for the Penn Reunion Leadership Conference on Saturday, September 16th if you would like to help us plan in person!

We look forward to hearing from our classmates, and to seeing you all on campus in May 2018!

Penn Class of 1993 25th Reunion Countdown

The weekend of June 2 – 3, 2017, marked 49 weeks until the 25th Reunion of the Penn Class of 1993 (May 11 – 14, 2018)! 

Join us we count down the weeks to our reunion #93tothe25th:

  • Do you have old photos or mementos from our time at Penn? Photos of Spring Fling? Football at Franklin Field? Classes at DRL? We are taking a trip down memory lane and would love for you to share your memories with our class in a future post. Please email us!
  • Follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.
  • Classmates are invited to join our Facebook and LinkedIn groups.

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Filed under 20th Reunion, 25th Reunion, Alumni Weekend, Class of 1993, Kiera R., Reunions

Our Last Reunion

By Sandra S.

Well, at least that is what George Wills, President of the Class of 1949 called his 65th Reunion when we first met to start planning the event. But after seeing this group of vibrant alumni, I doubt it. The Class of 1949 celebrated fully during alumni Weekend 2014. In addition to a wonderful class representation on Saturday’s Alumni Day, a group of classmates joined together on Friday for a full day of events. They started with a luncheon where Chris Maxwell addressed them and spoke about the benefits of positive thinking. Immediately following this celebration they took an exclusive Mural Arts Tour of Philadelphia. Then after a short afternoon break, they gathered once again for a dinner and movie night. Classmate, Shirley Adelman wrote, “For me, it was a completely positive experience.”   It was so much fun to see the Class of 1949 enjoying life and Penn this spring!

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My Top Penn List: Alumni Weekend 2014 Tweets

By: Casey Ryan, C’95

First of all I’d like to acknowledge my amazing colleague, Jason Strohl, for running a few stories in lieu of mine because I was going to miss the deadline. Thank you, Strohly, for covering for me.

It’s been a month since Alumni Weekend. I wanted to share with you some of the most enjoyable tweets and pictures (with #PennAW) from the wonderful weekend. (Note: the opinions and views expressed through these Twitter, instagram and other social media accounts are the opinions of those individuals and do not reflect the opinions or views of the University or myself).

10. @yPennAlumni: The truest #PennAW button that ever existed. pennalumni @penn @penn2004 @penn2009

9. @Penn: For their 5th reunion, @Penn2009 had the right idea for their class gift. #PennAW #ArmyofAmys @yPennAlumni

8. @gsh1984: What a great time teaching social media basics with @KarenLGlass #PennAW photo

7. @CarlinAdelson: I saw people and it was terrific! #pennaw #by09

6. @heatherette01: A little blurry, but a gem #freshmanyear #roomielove #penn09 #pennaw

5. @IraHarkavy: Amazing day. Congrats to the Young Quakers, who competed against Harlem Lacrosse players at Penn Park #PennAW

4. @ErinnLCarey: This @penn alum from the class of ’54 still has his tuition bill! Grand total, including fees?? $342.50!! #PennAW

3. @PennMedAlumni: Our med alumni show off their #pennpride in a parade that leads into the newly completed #pennpark #maw2014 #pennaw

2. @thomaswnance: Best Friends Ever!! #PennAW #BenFranklinStatue @ College Green

1. @KieraReilly: Hi Ben! I bet lots of alumni will come by to say hi today. #PennAW

There were two honorable mentions:

@jgoldner: When do I get to throw toast? #PennAW”

@johnbudd: First stop at reunion: Abner’s. #PennAW

I hope to see you come back to campus for Homecoming, October 30-November 1 and Alumni Weekend 2015 May 15-18 and tweet away.


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Filed under Alumni Weekend, Casey R., Reunions, Top Ten

The Newbie at Penn!

By: Ken B.

So I have been working for Alumni Relations for about a month and I must say, working at Penn has been like no other experience!

My first week was not like a normal week you would typically experience at a new work place. I think your first week would include some sort of orientation as well as an understanding as to what might be expected of you and maybe some training.

My first week included… Alumni Weekend. Alumni Weekend is the largest event Alumni Relations puts together every year to celebrate reunions, catch up with old friends, relive traditions and of course celebrate the induction of new alumni through the beautiful commencement ceremonies that take place during and at the end of Alumni Weekend.

So my tasks for my first week, after of course meeting many of my new colleagues with a quick, “Hi, my name is so and so and I.. Gotta go,” were to design a few different items for Alumni Weekend and to also design a group photo of everyone in Alumni Relations using the theme “Going Green.” The idea was to use Kermit the Frog and The Muppets as a base and the outcome was actually not bad at all.


Another task that was assigned to me was to be the “Event Manager” of a particular that was located in Houston Hall (At the time, I had no idea where that was). The event was based around the understanding of #Hashtags and using social media. We had 41 Alumni attend!

One of my last tasks for Alumni Weekend was to carry the 1939 Alumni Flag for the 2014 Commencement Ceremony. This was by far the greatest honor that has ever been bestowed upon me. It was exhilarating and an honor to be able to walk out onto Franklin Field and see all of the faculty, family, friends and alumni cheer on the future Alumni of Penn.

So as my first week here at Penn came to a close, I asked myself “Can every week been this awesome?”



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Filed under Alumni Weekend, Ken B., The Sweeten Life

My 25 Year Penn Reunion: Living an “As Is” life in a world that only wants “So Perfect!”

Author:  Lisa Ellen Niver, C’89

Wandering on Madison Ave in Manhattan last week, I noticed paparazzi everywhere. After asking, a woman told us, with tears in her eyes, that JLo was eating lunch. I would have missed her. She did not look “So Perfect” but she is stunning. As I left New York City for Philadelphia for my twenty-five year college reunion, I have been thinking about what have I done and what do I want for the next twenty-five years!

In a life filled with product placement where JLo is lifting her Coca-Cola glass so many times per hour on American Idol, our lives have been given a structure that we might not purchase if it were not so insidious.

In As Is by Rachel Michael Arends, the story is told through several narrators and Arends is able to share deep perspectives about how people with different lifestyles lock themselves into their own cage about money, sexuality, and professions of what they think that want and should own and should do.

Through Arends’ intriguing characters, we are able to wonder and wander. Is it a good choice to be an artist? Is it okay to defer your dream to care for your father? Most of the interactions and characters would have accepted the decisions of their friend or family member if they had only been told. Fear made nearly every character in this book withhold their personal truth.

Hiding themselves made them seem like a cheap imitation of what they could have brought to the table. Choosing to be courageous and wish for what they really wanted and reach out to receive it often only comes after tragedy and hardship but hopefully Rachel Michael Arends’ novel gives you the hope to share your story and live a life painted fully without regrets.

Early in the novel, Gwendolyn says: “On television it can look glamorous, and perhaps some people would love this lifestyle. But I don’t,” I wondered what didn’t she like? And who was she really?

Wandering the parade and picnic at the University of Pennsylvania, I thought what would life be like if we did not pretend. Gwendolyn believes that Armand “actually enjoys being So Perfect all the time,” it gave me pause to think about who do I know who resembles that remark and do they feel like Gwendolyn that “it just seems wrong, incongruous, and unnatural,” and more of a cage than a life.

There were many buttons to wear at Reunion: “I met my wife at Penn,” “<3 Penn,” and “Don’t worry, I don’t remember you either!” Maybe several alums felt like Gwendolyn: “I find it scary and unnerving when strangers approach me as if we’re old friends. I don’t like to worry about what I wear, if my hair and makeup look good enough (according to Armand they never do), what I say, or how I say it. I prefer to stay at home behind our high fences, inside our security system.”

w/ Joyce Lim Twomey

w/ Joyce Lim Twomey


She has been told by Trey, her producer, “I’m lucky to have this job, that anyone in her right mind would want it.” At an Ivy League institution, in marriage or in many other settings, we are sold that line about being lucky. I went to medical school because I was smart in science. Like Gwendolyn I felt, “I don’t want to let anyone down…[but] I’m beginning to fear that I’ll be trapped in this mansion forever.” We sometimes become embroiled in a labyrinth or career and we seem to be stuck. Breaking out of the mold and consciously taking a different path can be a struggle but isn’t the freedom, to be who we really are, worth it?

When we become lost from our selves, we often need someone like Gwendolyn’s sister, Megan, to ask us: “What’s your plan? Are you going back there?” We all want to have someone in our life that we can tell as Gwendolyn does, “You’re like an island of sanity in the craziest day I’ve ever had.” It is possible we have those people already if we would only be honest with them about how we feel and what we need. Most of us keep our wounds and concerns a secret only sharing what we think looks “So Perfect” to the constant measuring up on Instagram and Pinterest.

When one character with a cane walks on a floor above Gwendolyn with a sliding sound, she muses, “It’s strange to think of carrying your damage on the outside where everyone can see it.” What if we shared our fears and foibles on Facebook and not just our fairytales that come true? Carrie, a character who is a fan of Gwendolyn on television but becomes a true friend in the story, shares, “The biggest thing I’ve learned over the course of this year is that life is one big surprise after another, and maybe I should loosen up and try my best to roll with it.” As I walked the parade on Saturday standing in between the two wonderful women who were my college roommates, I realized that I am so lucky in both an “as is” and “so perfect” way to have walked this road surrounded by people who know what I look life in real life and want to be friends anyway! Whether there are tears of joy or sadness, they have always run to my side, whenever I am ready to share this rollercoaster of life.

Arends’ character, Armand, realizes that “As Is,” could be his “motto for acceptance. Not an excuse to settle necessarily, but a reminder that at a certain point, you just need to say, OK, enough is enough! I’m sick of chasing the dream of perfection and that’s not a failure.”

Gwendolyn does believe in fate, as she says, “You have to. I just saw a falling star out the window and I wished for you. When I looked up, there you were!” In some ways like the movies, we want to say, “I wished for you” and for the person to appear. What if you are really wishing for yourself to stand up, take up space and live your dreams? I wish for you that you are inspired to pause and think about your own parade and find a path that leads you to yourself and the fulfillment of your best dreams.

w/Barbara Yorke

w/Barbara Yorke

About the Author: Lisa Ellen Niver (CAS 1989) was honored to walk in graduation on May 19, 2014 with her classmates from twenty-five years ago! Learn more about her journeys at and

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Filed under 25th Reunion, Alumni Perspective, Alumni Programming, Alumni Weekend, Campus Life, Commencement, Lisa Ellen Niver, Memories of Penn, Penn Alumni Travel, Penn Park, Reunions, Traditions