Dinners for 12 Strangers program is based on a simple idea: local alumni host dinners in their homes for students, faculty and fellow alumni in an effort to make UCLA a smaller, friendlier place.
The program began in 1968, when a group of alumni sought to bridge the growing generation gap between alumni and students. Faculty members were invited to help facilitate discussions at these informal dinners held in homes and apartments near campus. The program has continued to grow and in 2007, 109 dinners were held, involving more than 1,500 Bruins. Throughout the years, this award-winning program has been emulated by hundreds of colleges and universities throughout North America.
When I was a student at UCLA, I toyed with the notion of signing up for one of these, but I thought I was too busy balancing college and raising two kids on my own. Later, after I graduated, I considered hosting a dinner, but I thought I was too busy attending law school (and later working) and raising two kids. Now that I’m a blogger with a mission to come up with 31 lists in 31 days, I thought I might create a guest list for a fantasy Dinner for 12 Strangers. Since this is my fantasy dinner, the sky could be the limit in terms of guests, but I decided to have a few rules. First, no men. I do not want an all-girl evening because I dislike men. Some of my best friends are men. I even married a man. It's just that when women gather together, our conversation takes a different turn than it does when men are about. It is typically uncensored, probing, challenging, edgy, raw, honest, and open. And supportive, uplifting, nurturing, and warm. It’s just different. In a good way. Also, I decided that the women at my fantasy dinner would have to be actual, living women. Dead broads at the dinner table would be unappetizing. They would smell bad and not have much to say. And, finally, in order to call it a Dinner for 12 Strangers, the other 11 guests would have to be strangers.
2. Allison Janney
She’s an Emmy-award winning actress of film and television fame. I loved her work in Primary Colors, American Beauty, Hairspray, and, most recently, Juno. I often imitate her Peach in Finding Nemo when I’m in a stressful spot (“Find a happy place. Find a happy place. Find a happy place.”) But I first came to appreciate what a brilliant and talented woman she is during her years on a television series that I **Hearted** very much, The West Wing. However, this raises the question, do I really want to dine with Allison Janney or C.J. Cregg?
3. Maya Angelou
She’s flippin’ awesome. And I want her there because we both know why the caged bird sings. Although she said it, she knows that caged birds don’t merely sing with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still. The caged bird sings of joy, and in so doing, gives joy to those who hear the song, particularly those who do so without it filtering through the bars of the cage. In fact, it doesn't see bars. Only spaces open to the world. In A New Earth, Ekhart Tolle says that it is under the most extreme pressure and heat that carbon turns into diamonds. Same thing with caged birds. The quality of the bird’s experience depends on how she views that cage. Does it become her excuse or her motivation? Is it her curse or her gift? She has the power to decide. Dark like carbon or sparkling like diamond?
4. Chelsea Clinton
I like both of her parents, for different reasons and some are the same. I lurve (I’ve been dying to use that word in a post. Other bloggers I read use the term “lurve,” and it sounds so hip and cool when they do. I want to be part of the hip and cool crowd.) . . . oh, uh, what was I saying? Oh yeah. I lurve hanging out with my kids and their friends. They offer fresh perspectives on relevant topics. They are fun, challenging and accepting. It is a joy to observe young adults on their path. So that’s the main reason I’d want Chelsea there. She seems like an interesting young woman, not because she’s Bill and Hillary’s kid, but because she’s a young woman who has had some remarkable experiences. I think it would be great fun to hear what this young woman has to say on any topic, and even more interesting would be to hear what topic she might pick as part of the many topics that might come up during our dinner conversation.
This may sound hokey, predictable, or unimaginative to some people. I don’t care. This is one extraordinary women who does a lot of good in this world. She was once a bit of carbon that could have melted and broken under the extreme pressure and heat of being a black, woman, victim of abuse, who instead became a diamond. I totally want her on my guest list, and I’m not gonna explain myself to anyone who doesn’t get me on this. Nanny nanny boo boo.
6. Lucie Arnaz
I have been a fan of Lucille Ball since I was a little girl. I think it was her humor and her humanity that shaped me, and even saved me. I used to have a tiny little black and white television set in my bedroom, complete with an antenna, terrible reception, and a dial to change the channel. (Gawd, I’m old.) The best afternoons of my childhood were spent watching I Love Lucy reruns. She helped me escape. She taught me to laugh. Out loud. No matter what else might be happening. There was laughter in my little bedroom. And it was mine, all mine. I introduced all three of my daughters to Lucy Ricardo. One of my favorite memories of Courtney’s childhood was hearing her hooting and belly laughing, and me walking into the room to find her watching Lucy setting her fake nose on fire. Lucy is long gone, and although I would love to hear a little about the woman who I so badly wanted to meet and never did, I would also like to know Lucie Arnaz. I remember watching her play Kim Carter, Lucy’s daughter on Here's Lucy, and thinking she was so graceful, poised, and lovely with her long, black hair. I suppose it was a girl-crush back then. Today, I'd just like to have a meal with a talented woman who would undoubtedly bring some interesting stories to the table.
Who wouldn’t want to hang out with someone who has won an Emmy, an Oscar, a Grammy, and Golden Globes? Obviously the talented half of Sonny and Cher, her music from that time holds a special spot in my soul. I’ve moved on to enjoy some of her later work too, particularly “Believe.” Moonstruck is one of my favorite films. I loved her in Mermaids, Silkwood, and Mask. This lady has led a very colorful life, wearing some very colorful Bob Mackie outfits, and I know she'd be a very colorful dinner guest.
8. Joyce L. Kennard
Associate Justice Joyce L. Kennard is another one of those carbon-into-diamonds women. She was born in a Japanese concentration camp in Indonesia in 1941. She came to California at the age of twenty. Of modest means, she worked her way through school. English was not her first language, and yet she earned a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Law degree before being appointed to the California judicial system. She eventually soared up the judicial ranks to the California Supreme Court. She is known for writing the Kasky v. Nike opinion which didn’t let Nike of the hook when it claimed free speech after having been accused of lying about sweatshop conditions overseas. Are you seeing a pattern here? I’m really liking me some accomplished women who’ve overcome great odds in order to get there.
9. Marilu Henner
This woman totally has to be at my dinner. She was darling in Taxi, to be sure. She’s an accomplished Broadway actress, singer, and dancer (Grease!, Chicago, Pal Joey, etc.). She has killer entrepreneurial skills (check out her website), and so what if Donald Trump fired her on Celebrity Apprentice. She was the best apprentice he ever would have hoped to have. His loss. She’s written many best-selling books on diet, exercise, and parenting. But mostly I want her to come to my dinner because she radiates such a positive attitude, energy, and spirit.
10. Joy Behar
Wouldn’t this gal be a kick in the pants to have dinner with? She’d keep the conversation moving in a lefterly (I like that word I just made up) direction with her shoot-from-the hip talk and liberal perspective. She rises up to defend her position or any position with which she agrees, and when she speaks her mind, she does it with a lot of funny. She raises eyebrows, has taken criticism for her outspoken views, and keeps right on keepin’ on. She is a very bright and educated woman, but exudes an air of familiarity that makes you feel like you could have dinner with her, someone you’ve never before met, and have a blast.
11. Paula Deen
Paula Deen’s parents died when she was young, and it was that and other difficulties that led to an agoraphobic condition that she ultimately tackled when she started a catering business. She has big hair, a Southern drawl, and a lot of charm. Deen has been widely criticized for the unhealthy ingredients used in her recipes. I saw her making a cake on Oprah, in which she used gobs of butter, cream, and sugar. Oprah asked her something to the effect of, “Isn’t all the butter and cream bad for you?” Paula Deen replied, “Honey, I’m not your cardiologist.” Not only is this woman darn plucky, she can cook great comfort food. And since this is a fantasy dinner, I can eat all I want of it and not gain a pound or have to schedule a preventive angioplasty.
12. Mrs. G.
Mrs. G. hardly feels like a stranger. I know she has one husband and many secret boyfriends, for heaven’s sake. That’s a level of knowledge that even the best of friends sometimes do not achieve. But I’ve never met her in person, and so she qualifies for a spot at my Dinner for 12 Strangers. But why this woman? Why this particular blogger among many great ones (just look to the right and check out my blogroll). Well, aside from the blogs of my close friends and family, until recently I didn't venture out much into the Blogosphere. And then one day, Mrs. G., popped up on the radar. I began reading her blog, and that led me to others. My horizons expanded. And it all started in a good and safe place. To read her is to love her, that’s for sure. What I mostly love about her is her positive outlook, her grass-is-green-enough-on-my-side-of-the-fence attitude. Check her out at Derfwad Manor. Mrs. G., if you see a Willow green Volvo parked outside of your blog one night, it’s just me, one of your online fans, there to pick you up for dinner.