Connections: A Chance Encounter
Graduates spanning three decades find common ground at alumni events
When Dr. Philip Terry-Smith registered for the alumni brunch during the summer 2018 commencement weekend in Minneapolis, a staff member was surprised to learn he had graduated in 1992. “She told me, ‘We think you’re the oldest graduate here,’” Philip recalls with a chuckle. Philip was attending commencement in support of his husband, Dr. Justin Terry- Smith ’18, ’15, a Doctor of Public Health and Master of Public Health graduate. Soon, word of a brunch attendee who graduated 26 years ago spread to Dr. Prince Ordu ’00, a PhD in Health Services graduate and Alumni Ambassador.
“Up until that point, Dr. Ordu always knew he would be one of the alumni who had graduated the longest ago. I unseated him that day,” Philip says jokingly. “We had a bit of a laugh about that.”
Philip and Ordu were eager to share their memories of attending the university more than two decades ago. The pair also learned that they both work in higher education—Ordu as a professor at Strayer University and Ashford University and Philip as a department chair at Anne Arundel Community College in Maryland. Shortly after this conversation, Philip and Justin sat at a table with Dr. Andrea Vajdic-Pena ’18, who was celebrating earning her PhD in Human Services—the same program Philip had completed 26 years prior.
Attending his first alumni event more than two decades after graduating reminded Philip about the value of staying connected to the university, no matter how much time has lapsed. “Networking in our professions is everything,” he says. “You find out about opportunities to engage and do the work that you love. You can help others develop processes and connections that will help them in their work, too.”
Since the brunch in July, Philip has joined Ordu in the ranks of the Walden Ambassadors Network and attended events hosted by the Maryland alumni chapter. The experience convinced Justin of the benefits of staying connected as well.
“I never really thought about being a part of any alumni association except for my high school because, well, we go to school online,” says Justin, an Air Force veteran who works for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teaches at Anne Arundel Community College, and works as an HIV and gay civil rights activist, columnist, and speaker. “When I walked into the brunch in Minneapolis, I noticed that there were a lot of people from Maryland. I realized that there’s probably a Walden graduate out there who is doing very similar work to me.”
It’s the ability to make meaningful connections with their peers that keeps the Terry-Smiths coming back. “There’s that camaraderie, like, ‘What are you doing with your degree? How can we work together?’” Justin says. “It’s really amazing to have that connection to someone who has been through the same experience you have.”