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Reflecting on our 50th Year of Shipboard Education

Over the past year, Semester at Sea celebrated 50 years of shipboard education. Alumni and friends of SAS gathered near and far throughout the year to pay tribute to the program that has given them the world, and many lifelong friendships.

The year of celebration kicked off with a brand-new shipboard exhibit, History Lane, installed on deck 6 of the MV Explorer. The exhibit features historic artifacts and depicts the unique nature of SAS as a floating, living-learning community. Multiple “Then and Now” photography exhibits around the ship showcase scenes from the first voyage and from today’s voyages, illustrating the similarities and differences of the program since 1963.


October 22, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the embarkation of the first Semester at Sea voyage, then known as the University of the Seven Seas, which set sail from the New York harbor. On October 25, the first of two 50th anniversary events was held at LAVO in New York City. 300 alumni, family, and friends of Semester at Sea attended the sold-out celebration, generously hosted by SAS alumnus Rich Wolf (Fall 1980), owner of the popular nightclub. Alumni of all ages from voyages spanning 1964 to Summer 2013 enjoyed reconnecting with voyage friends, making new SAS connections, dressing up in a photo booth, and watching slides from the inaugural voyage in 1963.


While SAS alumni and friends celebrated in New York, the Fall 2013 50th Anniversary voyage was already underway. With 575 students from 247 different colleges and universities, the Fall 2013 voyage visited 13 countries and 17 ports, including Havana, Cuba. The Cuba visit was a major milestone for the program as the U.S. Treasury department approved a Semester at Sea application for travel to Cuba, which is not an easy feat. Students hailed from 20 different countries representing nearly all 50 United States, the Bahamas, Canada, China, Croatia, Egypt, Germany, Guatemala, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Taiwan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. Kathryn Thornton, former NASA astronaut and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia served as academic dean along with Nicholas Iammarino, professor and director of health sciences and kinesiology chair at Rice University, who served as executive dean.

On January 4, 2014, 557 people, some Semester at Sea alumni, others devoted friends of the program, embarked the MV Explorer for the 2014 Reunion Voyage. A four-day voyage from San Diego, California to Ensenada, Mexico and back, people of all ages came together to reunite with old friends, make new friends, and celebrate a program that many say shaped their lives. The voyage also commemorated milestone reunion years of 1964, 1969, 1974, 1979, 1984, 1989, 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and the new one-year reunion for 2013 voyagers. In Ensenada, participants took part in field programs such as visits to La Bufadora natural sea spout and Baja wine country, a Baja horseback trail ride, a city tour, whale watching, and The $100 Solution service trip. On board the ship, days were filled with educational sessions with guest speakers such as Mike Wilkin who spoke about Myths, Mysteries, and Magic of Mexico, a filmmaking discussion with writer and producer Brandon Hooper, and much more. On the final day of the voyage, a group of alumni initiated a $50,000 challenge, which was met and surpassed within a six-hour period. Including the voyage live and silent auction, the shipboard community of the 2014 Reunion Voyage raised over $125,000 for the program and created a lot of special memories for SAS friends of all ages.


Following Reunion Voyage, the Spring 2014 50th Anniversary Voyage embarked from Ensenada, Mexico for a 112-day journey with 554 students representing 24 countries and 280 different colleges and universities. The voyage visited 16 ports and 12 countries around the world. Anne Kinney, Ph.D., chair of East Asian languages, literatures, and cultures at the University of Virginia served as academic dean for the voyage along with Michael Zoll, vice president of academics for Semester at Sea, who served as executive dean.

Spring 2014 also marked the 50th anniversary of the return of the first Semester at Sea voyage, then known as the University of the Seven Seas. As the inaugural voyage ended in California, Semester at Sea held a west coast celebration for the anniversary in Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theatre. Graciously hosted by theatre owner and Semester at Sea alumnus Steve Needleman (Fall ’72, Spring ’74), 350 Semester at Sea alumni, family, and friends gathered to celebrate the program. Among those in attendance were SAS icons Max Brandt, Lloyd Lewan, and John Tymitz. Special guest speaker and SAS alumna Jessica Jackley (Spring ’99), cofounder of Kiva, spoke to the crowd about how her Semester at Sea experience shaped and inspired her career. Pencils of Promise founder and SAS alumnus Adam Braun (Fall ’05) was also in attendance, and generously donated 150 signed copies of his new book, The Promise of a Pencil, to attendees. Guests enjoyed the tunes of the band Pinch Me, mingled over hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, and captured 50th anniversary memories in a photo booth with worldly and SAS-themed attire.


50th Anniversary Online Store- Special Discount!

It’s your last chance to celebrate our 50th anniversary and get exclusive, limited-edition SAS gear that will soon be discontinued. We’re offering a special 50% off discount, so act fast before it’s too late! Thank you for your continued support throughout¬†our 50th anniversary celebration.


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