The Dinners for 12 Strangers (D12) experience has united UCLA students, alumni, faculty, and friends through the decades. For three days in the spring, Bruins around the world come together to share a meal while forming new friendships, which can last long after students graduate. Originating at UCLA with two dinners in 1968, hundreds of dinners now take place around the world. As some of our hosts and guests can attest, until you have attended a Dinner for 12 Strangers, your UCLA experience isn’t complete.
I have been co-hosting a Dinner for 12 Strangers event with my husband, Laszlo, and Bill and Missy Calvert in Los Angeles for over six years. Our goal in hosting is to connect Bruins while engaging in conversations and finding common interests among the guests. Although I am no Martha Stewart, my passion is baking, so iconic blue and gold-colored desserts are also a must-have after dinner. With guests ranging from students to professors to alumni, we try to create a space where everyone can meet one another outside of the university setting. One of my favorite moments during dinner is hearing students find out that they lived in the same dorm hall freshman year or are in the same class together. Our dinners have a very long line of UCLA family tradition. My late Uncle Peter Dalis served as the athletic director for UCLA for over 19 years after attending UCLA for both undergraduate and graduate school. I originally met Bill when we both attended UC Santa Barbara and were in Greek Life together. As my Sigma Chi Big Brother, Bill and I have stayed in touch over the years and he later met Missy, a UCLA student, while he was attending UCLA Anderson School of Management. Now, both of our daughters attend UCLA as well as Dinners for 12 Strangers! Our D12 is a legacy D12.
Bill, MBA ’81, and I first heard about Dinners for 12 Strangers when our daughter, Katherine, was in elementary school and they had a similar tradition, which was probably adapted from D12s at UCLA. We always enjoy hosting and participating in these events because they allow those attending to meet new people with at least one common denominator: UCLA. A typical D12 begins as our guests enter our home and we see that those who are more outgoing begin conversing with those who seem to be more introverted. We start off the night by doing some introductions and fun icebreakers around the fire pit. We always have a diverse group of guests who are in-state, out-of-state and even some international. Different cuisines are served every year, but ours is typically a buffet filled with various types of goodies like Mediterranean and Mexican food. We also try to accommodate those with dietary restrictions. Tables are set up in various places around the house so the guests can mingle and walk around. Towards the end of the night, everyone gathers around the fire pit and makes s’mores. My favorite moment of the night is when we see the “experienced” s’mores makers teaching the new ones their preferred marshmallow toasting strategy: directly in the fire or slow roasting until golden brown. Our Dinner for 12 Strangers is especially unique because we usually invite more than 20 guests to our event. Why not? The more the merrier!
My husband, Frank, MBA ’08, and I have the most fun at our Dinner for 12 Strangers in New York City. I have hosted five to six times, but I originally became involved with D12 after I graduated from UCLA and began living with other Bruins who loved hosting these dinners. Although I have never attended another D12, I enjoy having the opportunity to provide an experience for alumni and students in our area since it is harder to make friends when you move to a new city. Hearing the stories of how students and alumni ended up in NYC after attending UCLA allows for stimulating conversation throughout the evening. We ask every guest to give introductions as well as a fun fact about themselves while together in a large group. The must-do portion of the night is taking a group selfie and of course doing an 8-Clap. Hosting more than 12 strangers is no unusual task for us; last year we had 27 Bruins attend our event! In order to accommodate our large group of attendees, we make sure we make (or order) some of our favorites in bulk, Mexican and Italian food. The stimulating discussions and memories shared by the attendees create a bond that often blossoms into friendships. I have made many connections through Dinners for 12 Strangers and I am excited to host again this year!
I’ve had the opportunity to attend multiple D12 events even before I became a student at UCLA. My mom and dad have been co-hosting in Los Angeles since I was in middle school and they have a blast meeting all of their guests. At my first D12 experience, my parents brought me to the event because they wanted me to meet new people, but I mostly went for the food. I ended up dragging my best friend along with me because, at age 12, I was too scared to interact with college students in a small environment. The undergraduate and graduate students always included my friend and me in conversation, and made sure that we played the ice-breaker games with them. It was through these experiences in my younger years that I gained the confidence to go out and meet new people wherever I ended up going to school. What I didn’t realize then, was I would run into the same dinner guests as alumni some years later. Now that I am a student at UCLA, I am constantly encouraging my friends and classmates to come with me to a D12 event in the area. It’s such a great way to meet new Bruins and see what they are like. This tradition has had a positive impact on me leading up to and during my college years. I can’t wait to attend another Dinner for 12 Strangers this spring!
The 2019 Dinners for 12 Strangers will be held on
Sunday, Feb. 24
Saturday, March 2
Sunday, March 3
To host a dinner for UCLA students or neighboring alumni, sign up by Jan. 11.
To attend a dinner in your area, sign up by contacting a dinner host.