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Bonderman Fellowship Celebrates 20th Anniversary

Oct 14, 2015
Bonderman 20th Anniversary - view from stage

On October 16 philanthropist, venture capitalist, and University of Washington alumnus David Bonderman celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Bonderman Travel Fellowship with nearly 100 past and current Fellows and their guests.  These Fellows, joining us from around the world and representing all disciplines and eras of the Fellowship, came together to celebrate the generosity and vision that has inspired this program for more than two decades. During their “Bonderman,” Fellows travel the world alone without committing to formal research, study or organized tours during their adventure, while experiencing at least six countries in two different regions of the world. That’s right: Bonderman Fellows are mandated to travel for the sake of travel - to wander and wonder - over the course of eight months, supported by funds, mentoring, and logistical help from the Honors Program and the Graduate School. The purpose of this innovative award is to transform lives, and at the recent celebration it was clear that it had done just that.

What makes the whole thing possible?

It started with the travels of a young David Bonderman, who found himself wiser for the wear after spending a year wandering the world on a Sheldon Fellowship from Harvard Law in the late 1960s. He went on to a varied career as a law professor and venture capitalist, and began UW’s Bonderman Fellowship at in 1995 with awards to undergraduates in the Honors Program and graduate students in Law and Business.  Now open to all UW graduate and professional students, as well as high-achieving undergraduates from all three UW campuses, the Bonderman Travel Fellowship has provided more than 200 students the opportunity to see the world in a new way.

Bonderman 20th Anniversary - Ana Mari Cauce and David Bonderman
President Ana Mari Cauce leads an interview with David Bonderman

Bonderman was joined at the recent celebration by his wife and son, and while he doesn’t like to talk much about himself, he did sit down with newly-appointed University of Washington president (and former director of the Honors Program) Dr. Ana Mari Cauce for a wide ranging conversation about his travels, his life experiences, and his hopes for the Fellowship - and questions from the Fellows themselves. When asked, “where is one place you think everyone in the world should see?,” Bonderman replied that the best place to visit would vary from person to person, depending on what they most need to encounter.  One of his more touching pieces of advice came in answer to the question, “how do you advise those of us who want to make a difference in the world to do so?” To this he answered, “The United States is admired throughout the world for its culture; the best way you can go about bringing change is by being you. There is no better ambassador for the U.S. than you.”

Bonderman indicated his intention to continue the Fellowship, so we can look forward to these experiences continuing, rippling out through hundreds of fellows to impact hundreds of thousands more. Fellows preparing for their journeys spoke excitedly about their plans with those who had gone before them. New Fellows Xoe Amer and Matt Bell, both Seattleites and recent graduates, have vastly different plans for where they will go and what they will do in their travels to Peru, Iceland, Brazil, Vietnam, Japan (to name a few). They are united in their willingness, however, to find out what is like to be genuinely boundless.

Bonderman 20th Anniversary - Anna Kramer and Sam Sudar
Fellows Anna Kramer and Sam Sudar

Anna Kramer (graduate Fellow, 2010) and Sam Sudar (undergrad Fellow, 2009) gave their own remarks, speaking for many in the room who referred to their Bonderman experiences as “transformative,” “hugely impactful on how I now live my life,” and “hard—a little like being broken open—but 100% worth it.”

One Fellow spoke passionately about how his Bonderman made him realize that his dream to change the world really needed to start at home: “The place that I know the best and where I can make the greatest impact is where I’m from. So that’s where I’m starting.”