SYA France at 50

SYA France's 50th anniversary weekend celebration took place from March 24-27 in Rennes and continued in Paris on March 28.


In Rennes, over 375 alumni, parents, current and former faculty, current students, host families, and local dignitaries gathered for the Friday evening Mayoral Reception at Salons de l'Hôtel de Ville de Rennes, and over 275 attended the Saturday Soirée de Gala at L'Opéra de Rennes, the crowning event in Rennes. Members of the Class of SYA France 1968, the first group of students to graduate from SYA France when the school was housed at l'Institut Franco-Américain, were honored for their pioneering spirit and French host families were celebrated for their longstanding relationship with the school. Resident Director Denis Brochu was also honored for his 10 years of loyal service in advance of his retirement at the end of June.

The weekend’s festivities started on Friday, March 24, with an afternoon architectural walk designed by faculty member Benjamin Sabatier and led by students. The evening featured a mayoral reception held at Salons de l'Hôtel de Ville de Rennes with over 375 alumni, parents, current and former faculty, current students, host families, and local dignitaries. The reception included a formal presentation of a certificate of appreciation to Jocelyne Bougeard, deputy chair of international relations from the city of Rennes, in recognition of the city's commitment and dedication to the betterment of the lives of SYA France students and faculty, as well as to their families. The reception concluded with the singing of both the American and French national anthems.

Proceedings continued early Saturday morning with Back-to-School sessions hosted by SYA France faculty and current students. Classes were interactive as alumni and parents participated in French literature, history and language mini-lessons. This was followed by an option for guests to join student-led tours of le Marché des Lices, the second largest open-air farmers market in France. There was also an open house at l’Institute Franco-Américain, the original home of SYA France where students attended classes from 1967 until 1981 when the school moved to its permanent home, Villa Alvarez. Art history teacher J.P. Lemée hosted a special gallery talk on his “Stoc An Vrac’h” exhibition at Galerie DMA.

Guests enjoyed cocktails and camaraderie while celebrating the rich history of SYA France following a performance of alumni and student talent as part of the special occasion. Alumni in attendance represented 34 out of the SYA France classes, which was a tremendous turnout.

On Saturday evening, Alexandra Alger FR’79 CN’12P and Kristin Lund Vosmik FR'81 FR'16P ES'17P, SYA France 50th Anniversary Celebration co-chairs and trustees, welcomed SYA President Tom Hassan and guests to the Soirée de Gala at L'Opéra de Rennes.

Entertainment at the gala was provided by alumna Madeline Fuhrman FR’10 who performed two original songs, one of which she wrote during her year in Rennes. The song is featured in the 2016 movie, 1 Night. Current SYA France students also participated in the celebration: Anna Siegel sang and was accompanied by Elma Hoffman on piano, and Hileena Channell provided personal reflections on her year in Rennes through performance poetry.

Invited alumni speakers were Alice Conklin FR’74 FR’07P, professor of history at the Ohio State University, where she is an awarding-winning scholar and author, as well as a noted cultural, political and intellectual historian of Modern France and its Empire with a focus on the 20th century and Jess Baily FR’77, the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia and career Foreign Relations officer.

Conklin gave insight into the history of the U.S.-French relationship and how SYA caught “the crest of a tidal wave of postwar American enthusiasm for France.”

Baily shared insights and perspectives on his service to the United States, the power of SYA and the importance of building bridges. He said, “Those who participate in exchanges constitute a global network who understand the United States, and Americans who understand the wider world. They can communicate and navigate differences. All can be partners in solving the world’s challenges. This strengthens our national security, our economy, and our societies. Nurturing these relationships creates true allies.”

Speaking about the success of the weekend’s event, Hassan said, “Our deepest appreciation goes to the City of Rennes and to the many host families over the decades that have made SYA France the success that it has been for the past 50 years. Honoring SYA in the remarkable city of Rennes in spectacular locations like the Opera House and City Hall reminds us of our good fortune and our responsibility as global citizens. And that SYA’s role, now more than ever, is to continue to educate young people who are thoughtful, engaged, and talented, individuals who will most certainly make this world better for all of us.”

Following Rennes, many guests continued the celebration in Paris culminating with a cocktail reception at the Ambassador’s Residence. Foreign Service Officer Lisa Petzold FR’99 welcomed guests and shared her SYA story from that first transatlantic flight, to gaining a French sister to how this singular year launched her decision to spend her life and career living and working overseas, representing her country and being involved in cross cultural dialogue. (Read Petzold’s remark’s here.) Chargé d’Affaires Uzra S. Zeya congratulated SYA on its 50-year history in France and reinforced the positive mission of understanding foreign cultures and becoming global citizens. She said, “One of the core missions of the State Department is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and those of other countries, through educational and cultural exchanges that support peaceful relations. And that is exactly what SYA is doing. When we talk to participants of State Department exchange programs before they leave, we emphasize the opportunity that their journey presents: the chance to bring the language, culture, and personal touch from their own country directly to the place they are visiting, and to learn as much as possible from their first-hand experience with a different culture. Each exchange participant is a mini-ambassador.” She described SYA as a “shining example of the important role private individuals and organizations can play in increasing dialogue between countries.”

Here’s looking forward to SYA’s continuing role in study abroad for future generations of young adults.