West 44th street, between 5th and 6th avenues, in New York City is possibly the only place in America where one could reasonably encounter Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Tyra Banks, and the words "University of Pennsylvania" all in the same space.
Founded in 1886, the Penn Club of New York boasts a ritzy interior with 39 hotel rooms, a gym, and a library. When not entertaining a who's who of celebrities and guests, the club has entertained thousands of Penn alumni. Twenty-one years ago, the club even received a six-figure donation from President Donald Trump, who graduated from Wharton in 1968.
There are Penn alumni clubs across the globe in 37 states and 52 different countries. Some locations have illustrious histories and some contain fewer than 10 members.
These clubs help to fulfill Penn founder Benjamin Franklin’s words that when Penn students have "gone through their studies and are to enter the world, the trustees shall zealously unite, and make all of the interest that can be made.”
They meet in cafes in downtown Cairo, for happy hour in Indianapolis, and at parks in sunny Kuwait.
Members network, reflect on their time at Penn, and most importantly — according to Penn Club of Kuwait President Majed Alsarheed — continue learning together.
“You’re talking about shared experiences you have,” said Alsarheed, a 2001 Engineering graduate. Alumni think to themselves, "Wow this is nice, I’m learning something, and sharing, making jokes about the Schuylkill and remembering Philly cheesesteaks — all that good stuff," he added.
Alsarheed has lived in Kuwait since his graduation from Penn, while Penn Club of Indiana President Ali Cudby, a 1991 College graduate, just moved to the state last year. Cudby said she’s been in an alumni club in almost every city she’s lived in since earning her Penn diploma, and that the connections she made there have been instrumental in finding her first jobs.
When she arrived in Indiana and found that the Penn Club from the 1960s had dissolved long ago, she began the process of starting a new one. Penn Club of Egypt President Mariam Georges, a 2010 Engineering graduate, also started a new outpost this year.
“One of the reasons I started it was to raise awareness about what was going on in Egypt and basically be the voice for Egypt within the Penn community,” Georges said.
She said she hopes the club will provide a beacon for Penn alumni visiting Egypt.
Penn welcomed students from 72 different countries and all 50 states this past fall, ensuring that in four years a new crop of freshly-minted alumni will be the next guests and caretakers of Penn's 120 alumni clubs. Or, if past tradition holds, they may start a new club themselves.
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