The Power of Grinnell

Grinnellians find that time and distance are no match for their friendship
Anne Grossman Bernheimer, Diane Gumz, Elizabeth Schwartz Meyer, Lara Szent-Gyorgyi, all class of 1989

We have all experienced meeting Grinnellians in unexpected places. Our group of four Grinnell friends took this to an international level during a trip to Tuscany to celebrate our collective bicentennial. We were visiting Lucca, Italy, in 2018 and taking a cooking class. While learning from Chef Giuseppe how to roll the perfect gnocchi, we chatted with our classmates — when lo and behold, we discovered a fifth Grinnellian in our midst. 

The roots of our friendship trace back to 1985 during our freshman year at Grinnell. The unique alchemy of place and time that happens at Grinnell provided the genesis of a deep and enduring friendship. We could regularly be found eating at Cowles or Quad, at a party, on a study break, or lounging in one of our rooms. Throughout our years at Grinnell, we listened to and supported each other through ups and downs; and during our senior year, the four of us lived together in a house off campus. The sum of these small, shared, seemingly insignificant moments served as the building blocks of a profound friendship that has lasted over 30 years. 

Post-Grinnell life took us in different directions, and the intensity of our connection waxed and waned. Periodic touch points occurred via weddings, visits, and on-campus reunions. Our 25th Reunion marked the first time all four of us were back on campus together. We pledged to see each other more regularly and decided to take a big trip together to celebrate our milestone 50th birthdays that would soon be upon us. Returning home, our routines took over all too quickly as we slipped back into our old habits. 

Luckily, Lara’s work was investing in wellness, and as a result of a coaching call she got the wheels moving on “the trip.” She set up a conference call and gave assignments to narrow down potential dates and destinations. A lengthy planning process of Wednesday night meetings using Zoom cloud videoconferencing ensued in which we considered the entire world and eventually settled on Tuscany. Though the weekly calls disrupted our routines, the process of planning proved invaluable, since it enabled us to organize and reconnect. We selected dates in May 2018 for travel and developed an itinerary. 

We were elated when we met at Boston’s Logan airport, after nearly a year of preparation that required time, dedication, and great understanding and support from our families. The trip itself was wonderful! Highlights included wine tastings, museums, the city of Florence, and the cooking class at which we met fellow Grinnellian Lisa Piediscalzi ’85. Though we have returned to our busy lives and no longer hold our weekly conference calls, this trip will always be one of our fondest memories. It reminded us that in addition to the academic foundation Grinnell gives its students, it also provides a community and a place to build lifelong relationships. Our trip was more than a birthday celebration; it was a tribute to our friendship. 

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