InsightOut: Lifelong Alumni Connection—Even From a Distance

InsightOut: Lifelong Alumni Connection—Even From a Distance

Maria Gallo (SMC 9T8) is Interim Chair of the USMC Alumni Association Board. She is an alumni strategist, scholar, entrepreneur, and author of The Alumni Way: Building Lifelong Value from Your University Investment (Policy Press, 2021). She is the founder of the research consultancy KITE — Keep in Touch Education and The Alumni Way Academy, promoting alumni potential. Alongside her social enterprise work, Maria is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin, and the expert alumni advisor for CERN in Switzerland. Maria lives in Donegal, Ireland with her husband Morgan and two children, Luca and Tara.

Lifelong Alumni Connection—Even From a Distance

Maria Gallo (far right) and other alumna at the Double Blue Reception in 2018

We have experienced a connection disruption. I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years living in the west of Ireland, soaking up the sea and scenery. My trips to Canada were very frequent, and meeting fellow St Mike’s alumni always factored into my plans. When I attended my 20th reunion, I gathered with the lifelong friends I met at Loretto College. In fact, I stayed at Loretto—what a treat! Things change, things stay the same.

In March 2020, my husband Morgan and I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to fly to Canada on the cusp of lockdown. We packed up our two young kids for a travel adventure. We thought it might last a few weeks. We stayed for four months. Connection took on a different meaning during this time. I connected. I reconnected. I re-evaluated the meaning of connection. Our windows looked out to the snow of winter, and, eventually, the scorching hot summer. Our screens offered us another window onto the world.

Once we settled back at home in the summer of 2020, I knew my experience of connection was in transition. I knew my finished manuscript needed a serious rewrite. I conducted more Zoom interviews and research. The series of lockdowns in Ireland—which included a limit of travel to a five-kilometer radius from home—meant my ability to study alumni connection was entirely virtual. 

What I witnessed and participated in was the ability to connect from anywhere and any time. I had the pleasure of meeting U of T students and St. Mike’s recent grads during this time. Time zones apart, this informal mentorship was as beneficial to me as to them as they navigate their future careers. The best part was that, this time, from my rural home on County Donegal, I wasn’t the only one relying on screens. The world’s window for connection was online.

In the opening of my book, The Alumni Way: Building Lifelong Value from Your University Investment I present this premise: we are all connected. It’s the word alumni that connects us. There is a democratization of alumni connection that has happened over the past two years. We can connect because of a shared place. We are all members of the St. Mike’s community, for instance. What’s powerful is this virtual connection despite our distance, our caring responsibilities, our backgrounds, our circumstances. 

I spent months pouring over alumni connection to complete my final manuscript of The Alumni Way.  During this process, I realized that I could link back to St. Mike’s in a way I never thought possible before. Like the serendipitous moments I note in my book, there was a call for new board members for the Alumni Association. Up until now, distance was always the barrier. Now, I knew the lockdown that was keeping us apart was also bringing us together. I took the leap.

Fast forward, and I am delighted and honoured to take on the role as Interim Chair of the Alumni Association Board. For many years, I read my St. Michael’s alumni magazine in front of a roaring turf fire thousands of miles away. I admired the energy Andy Lubinsky 7T9 brought to his leadership of the Alumni Association Board.

Now, I am excited that I can participate and connect on a level playing field. During our meetings, we are all squares on the Zoom screen. This is not to discount the importance of place. We all can appreciate sights and sounds of being on the St. Mike’s campus, especially with trees ablaze with colour and the new students ablaze with a hopeful future. I can’t wait for my next visit.

The future of alumni connection is one where each one of us in the St. Mike’s community feels, despite our busy lives, our commitments, our day to day, that we can reconnect to place and peopIe. Alumni—graduates, former students, former and current staff and faculty, religious communities— can diffuse their life experience to every corner of the College. We can derive benefit too; we can reconnect to old friends and create new ones. We can enrich our lives with learning and insight the College offers through its teaching, research, service to community, and alumni accomplishments.

Following the St. Mike’s Alumni Reunion event in May 2021, my kids are devouring the Neil Flambe Capers series of books by Kevin Sylvester (SMC 8T9). My dad Victor (SMC 6T6) is regularly attending St. Mike’s events online. I connect almost daily with my Loretto 9T8 friends. Aren Mnatzakanian (SMC 1T9) and I organized virtual U of T in Ireland alumni events. Sara Franca (SMC 0T1) recently introduced me to new contacts valuable to my Irish network. I worked with Diana Paolone (SMC 1T7), who shares my time zone and passion for alumni networks. These lifelong connections do not leave us if we are open to their potential.

I appeal to current St. Mike’s students: Don’t discount the power of your alumni connection. Don’t grab your degree and go. Immerse yourself in the experience. Make a point to build your network starting with classmates, fellow commuters, roommates, professors, staff members. Expand your outreach to the alumni community too. We are a friendly bunch. You are—and will be—connected for St. Mike’s for life. 

To everyone: I hope you emerge from this pandemic better connected and yearning better connection. Consider St. Mike’s as a place you can begin your reconnection. I look forward to meeting you at the next alumni event, strolling by Brennan Hall or Kelly Library and online!

Read other InsightOut posts.