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A decade of Thunderbird weddings

>> View the Thunderbird Wedding Album with more than 120 photos on Flickr.

By Gbemi Disu ’06

I cannot pinpoint the moment when the inspiration for this article surfaced. It could have been when I found a shoebox under my bed spilling over with a plethora of invitations or it could have been when I received the third copy of the movie “27 Dresses” from yet another friend of mine.  Either way, I guess it doesn’t matter. I have finally come to the realization: “My name is Gbemi Disu, and I am addicted to weddings.”

My friend Sam Tam ’06 ridicules this addiction, saying it’s because I am so nosy and make friends with everyone I meet in the world. I can’t help it. I am a tad bit of an extrovert and seem to be at that stage in life where everyone I know is getting married! It is a happy moment in any life, and I am always deeply honored to be invited. My bank accounts probably feel much less honored but, hey, who’s asking them anyway?

At the start of 2013 I was approaching the milestone of having attended more than 100 weddings. In my defense, I did grow up in Nigeria, where weddings seem to happen daily. This origin explains at least half of my wedding invitations.

The other group to blame is my truly global compadres from Thunderbird. Contrary to what some may think, I actually don’t have the opportunity to attend every wedding to which I am invited — which is why this article might get me in trouble with some of my T-bird friends. Certainly missing weddings for friends such as Antoine Trépant ’05 in France, Maha Alattar ’07 in Napa Valley, California, Nizar Adeeb Mahmoud ’06 in Lebanon, Ekaterina Erichsen (Pak) ’06 and Thomas Erichsen ’06 in Kyrgyzstan, Danny Ding-Shiang Lung ’05 in Taiwan, Rafael Blay ’06 in Peru, Titi Owoade ’11 in Nigeria, Lester Lee ’05 in the Philippines, Apu Khanna ’05 in India and many more were tough decisions to make as I would have loved to be a part of all their special days. But, alas, it was not meant to be.

I couldn’t possibly list all of the weddings I have been invited to or have attended without sending most people into a snoozefest, so I have decided to just highlight my top 20 Thunderbird weddings and hope you enjoy the brief walk down memory lane over the past decade. Also be sure to flip through the Thunderbird Wedding Album with more than 120 photos on Flickr.

THUNDERSTART AWARD

They say you never forget your first. This is certainly true with the wedding of Terrie Duong ’05. This was my first ThunderWedding right after graduation in July 2006 in the Washington DC area. Having had a blast working with Terrie to plan a plethora of regional nights and graduation events on campus, I should not have expected anything less than a fun and cultural time. She put on a splendid display of her Vietnamese heritage and her global mindset. About 10 of us T-birds were in attendance, and I remember dancing away to the “ThunderPub” mix while onlookers stared in bewilderment at an eclectic group of people screeching happily to the lyrics of songs in Swahili, Romanian, Spanish and Hindi. Right there was the mystique!

MOST GLOCAL (FOR COMBINING GLOBAL AND LOCAL)

The next wedding I will highlight was my first ThunderCouple affair. This was the delightful wedding between Kelly Van Dover ’06 and Brian DeFee ’06 — also known as my own All-American SmartyPants Ken and Barbie T-birds. I must say I was extremely excited to have the chance to be back in the lovely Valley of the Sun because I had barely been surviving my transition to the Windy City — Chicago — and it was only my first December. Arrogantly, I presumed that the only thing really global about Arizona was the Thunderbird campus, so I must say I was pleasantly surprised when I showed up to their wedding at Villa Siena. The stunning architecture of this location instantly made the guests take a mental journey to the Tuscan countryside of Italy. Not surprising was the refinement and elegance permeating every aspect of the wedding, from the unique purse bouquet carried by the bride to the décor of the ballroom. The intimate nature of the event made it possible for every guest to feel special. A fun slideshow of the couple added to the wonderful experience. I am giving Kelly and Brian the Glocal Award for proving you can find global in any local setting when you have the right mindset.

TASTY TORTA AWARD

Carla Rodriguez ’05 had a memorable pink cake that was delicious to boot at her wedding in April 2008. This celebration in El Paso, Texas, incorporated traditional aspects of the Mexican culture like the wedding lasso and nontraditional aspects like blowing bubbles at the couple as they come out of the church to greet their guests. Quite a few ThunderLadies were in attendance in addition to her Intel posse, and both groups mingled and traded fun stories about the bride. And the dancing! Need I say more?

MOST UNCONVENTIONAL AWARD

My fellow alumna and colleague Kellie Kreiser ’04 gets the Most Unconventional Award. Anyone who is familiar with Kellie would not be surprised that she isn’t the church and ballroom kind of gal; however, when she chose to do her wedding in Las Vegas and get married by Elvis, I must say she earned extra points for straying from the norm. We kicked off the celebration on the eve of the wedding at a German spot complete with elaborately costumed staff, making the venue feel just like Oktoberfest. The next day, the bride showed up in an elaborate quinceañera dress complete with sparkly red sneakers. Afterward Elvis sang the couple on to marital bliss, and we ended the night with her dad’s band jamming away. Quite the blend of Thunderbird staff and alum made this event quite a weekend to remember. But as they say, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” so this is as much as I can share.

BATTLE OF THE THUNDERCOUPLES

While T-birds tend to be less Hunger Games inspired in terms of our nature, a healthy amount of competition is always fun. So I will introduce the first of the ThunderWedding battle rounds. In one corner we have ThunderCouple Genevieve Chamard ’10 and Percy Humphrey ’11. In the other corner we have Linda Florio ’06 and Chris Zintel ’07. Both couples are multinational and embody the Thunderbird brand. Which pair wins the ThunderCouple battle? You decide.

Genevieve and Percy

Locations: France and Monterrey, California

Highlights: Belly dancing performance by the bride; fun photo booth and video presentation; delicious specialty cocktails named “the Funk” and “the Gen” after the couple.

Linda and Chris

Locations: Italy and Seattle, Washington

Highlights: Bridal train was all T-bird ladies; berry picking opportunity; amazing buffet spread including steak, chicken and, of course, Seattle salmon.

MOST ECLECTIC MENU

With metabolisms that must run at the speed of light, Liem Hua ’07 and Betty Lee probably weigh 200 pounds in total. However, this dynamic duo will give any of those hot dog eating contestants a run for their money with their ability to consume mass quantities and varieties of food. Visiting them always resulted in many a scolding from my conscience and subsequent hours at the gym afterward for penance. Thus when it came time for these two to get married, it was clear that this was a match made in culinary heaven. I mean, this is a couple that took weekend trips to Paris from the U.S. because they had a craving for the perfect Coq au Vin. They deserve to be together forever! Given their Asian heritage and predilection for traveling, it came as no surprise that they chose Hong Kong as the destination for their wedding. There were many things that stood out about this wedding to me, but to name a few there were the beautiful Chinese and Vietnamese wedding outfits, a modern jazz band during the cocktail hour and an amazing turn out of T-birds from all over the globe (I believe they had more than 20 T-birds representing all continents in attendance). The 10-course wedding dinner spread is probably what stood out the most. The uniqueness of this menu is what makes them the award winners for this category. Featured items included webbed duck feet, grilled abalone, shark fin soup, whole steamed fish and roasted pig. Some of these items clearly were a stretch for my truly global culinary palette. But hey, when in Rome … or more appropriately, when in Hong Kong with the Huas … you must do as the Huas do!

MOST WARDROBE CHANGES

I was tempted to call this the diva award, but fear of retaliation from the bride (and the fact that others on this list might then qualify) made me rethink the category and more accurately (insert “safely”) rename it. This wedding for Aida Walali ’07 was based in Morocco, starting in Casa and ending in Rabat by way of Marrakesh. T-bird slumber parties, pillow fights, mint teas, henna, hammams, shopping in the souks, camels and gorgeous palaces and beach time are a few of the notable things from this wedding that occurred in July 2008. You would have thought, given my history of attending Nigerian weddings, I would have known to expect multiple days of nonstop events, but clearly I had forgotten as I crawled into a corner to rest my wearied feet after endless hours of vigorous dancing. I must say I never thought I could survive being awake that long without my steady companion, RedBull, but turns out all the sugar in Moroccan mint tea can also do the trick if you drink enough pots. The bride looked resplendent in every stunning outfit and, boy, was there a few — I stopped counting at five! My shock at how beautiful she looked was less about her physical attributes and more about the fact that I had mostly seen her buried under the much-needed winter gear and exhaustion from our hellish early morning daily train commutes to work in Illinois. Grunting a quick hello and setting our phone alarm clocks to wake us up just in time to jump off at our respective train stops didn’t quite leave us much room for trading fashion tips, so I was quite amazed that she had found time to pull together this elaborate series of wedding events complete with couture outfits to match.

MOST BOLLYWOOD

This award title probably lacks in creativity but gets bonus points for accuracy in that Pranjul Srivastava ’05 did indeed marry a real-life Bollywood star and former Miss India USA, Pooja Kumar. An appropriate wedding fun fact was the short movie shown at the beginning of the reception starring the couple, which ended with them bursting through the doors into the hall. Quite the dramatic entrance worthy of rivaling any of the MTV Super Sweet Sixteen episodes! Turns out if Pranjul gets tired of playing with derivative instruments at the investment bank he works for, he could follow the path of his wife and become quite the Bollywood heartthrob himself! The perfect fusion of the glitz and colorful glamour of Bollywood combined with the usual mystique of New York made this a night to remember! As the popular melodies from Bollywood movies such as Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho burst out, the T-birds present couldn’t help themselves and soon took to the dance floor until the wee hours of the morning.

MOST SPARKLE

A VIP box at Carnival in Rio, yacht rides to beautiful beaches, midnight dance parties, a private caipirinha bar, amazing local cuisine and Approval Juice (inside joke) are just a few things that made the March 2011 wedding of Jessica Bellows ’07 a phenomenal affair. As my first introduction to Brazil, I must say I wouldn’t have done it any other way, and having a group of fun-loving T-birds along for the ride only made it even more special. Never one for too much fuss, Jess struck the perfect balance between relaxed and refined, making the end result quite exquisite. The brightly colored guests added to the ambiance and soon the DJ had everyone from teens to grandmothers stepping out to the dance floor for a great time. The theme song for the trip was Katy Perry’s Firework so when the couple burst out sparklers toward the end of the evening while the song played, everybody got in on the action.

BATTLE OF THE FUSION WEDDINGS

It’s time for another battle of the ThunderWeddings! Which T-bird bride brought the greatest cross-cultural flair to her nuptials? In one corner we have Genevieve H. Gutierrez '05 and in the other corner we have Isabel Agosti '06. Here are the facts to consider:

Genevieve and David

Fusion heritage: Genevieve is Irish-American and David Gil is from Mexico.

Location: Tucson, Arizona

Highlights: Bride walked down the aisle to Irish bagpipes, celebrating her Irish heritage. Guests ended up with Mexican luchador masks and other fiesta props. A taco food truck served guests, who also enjoyed Spanish serenading and lots of tequila.

Isabel and Diego

Fusion heritage: Isabel is Italian-American and Diego Gonzalez is from Mexico.

Location: Long Island, New York

Highlights: Bride wore a stunning lace-trimmed gown for the ceremony, held in a traditional Catholic church befitting her Italian heritage. Guests ended up with Mexican luchador masks and other fiesta props. A five-course meal featured a traditional Italian spread.

THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL AWARD

The expression opposites attract might come to mind when one meets the next couple I am going to describe; however, very quickly a second expression — don’t judge a book by its cover — quickly replaces that. Oscar Quinonez ’06 is always the life of the party with a big laugh, equally big heart and a penchant for mischief. Then you have Jules, who on the surface seems shy, reserved and exuding Old-world Spanish elegance … until you spend more than 10 seconds with her. Her razor-sharp wit, quiet quips and equally large penchant for laughter and mischief helps you realize that there couldn’t have been a more perfect match! Their wedding was a combination of all things bold and beautiful, celebrating their personalities and Mexican/Spanish cultures. The conga line dance through the quaint square led by mariachis, Jules’ stunning lace gown and elegant bouquet, the hearty feast, soul train line, strobe lights and amazing music made this May 2010 visit to the adobe land of Santa Fe, New Mexico, quite the special affair.

GLOBAL SOUNDS AWARD

Most people just choose to watch the show America’s Next Top Model on TV if they are curious about what life as a top model must be like. But not Rebecca Sacher ’05. Why watch when you can simply marry one and ask him directly, and that’s exactly what Becky did in June 2010 in Delaware. This combination of two really, really, really good-looking people (Zoolander reference here) probably makes some people roll their eyes at the injustice of the universe. However, the down-to-earth nature, kindness and intelligence of this couple really make even that childish satisfaction impossible. Becky had spent quite some time in Latin America and that influence was recognized in the mix of salsa, reggaeton and Latin pop songs that played during the reception! This wedding brought together the best aspects of two American cultures with a fun photo booth, great food and killer tunes that had all the T-birds cutting the rug all night … which is why Becky is receiving the Global Sounds award.

BEST STYLE-SWITCHING

This is one of those b-school terms that we hear thrown around about the best way to be a global leader is to be able to style switch and adapt to different environments. Jill Zabloski ’05, a Massachusetts native, certainly did this when she married Guru in April 2010 in Richmond, Virginia. The glowing Bollywood blonde adorned in a stunning red sari and perfectly henna’d hands was certainly more appropriately dressed for the equally colorfully dressed audience. Like true T-birds, some of us had also taken the time to join in the global fun by wearing our cultural outfits as well. I remember smiling as I observed the mainly vegetarian menu, which was in deference to Guru’s family and thinking to myself, “You can do this. At least it’s spicy and flavorful.” The meatatarian in me cried out in sadness but moved on quickly to a happy place as I spied a chicken curry at the end of the buffet table. Halfway through the night, the bride did another outfit change and this time appeared in a stunning blue Lengha and proceeded to have the first dance with her husband. You can probably detect a trend with these T-bird weddings as shortly thereafter, more fun commenced as a fusion mix of Indian and American music played. The night ended with some of the more nocturnal folks (easily replaceable with die-hard, Pub-loving T-birds) ended up at the hotel bar and telling fun stories from our lives on campus while the onlookers debated whether we actually attended business school or were a low-budget global version of “Days of our Lives.”

MERRY MINNY MAYHEM AWARD

The charming city of Minneapolis was best known to me for its plethora of lakes and cold winters. When my fellow cohort member and good friend Marne Distad ’06 decided to get married back in her hometown, I was happy that she chose to do it in the summer and since I was already living in the neighboring city of Chicago, it was a quick skip and a jump to get there. This was the second T-bird wedding I attended after graduation, and it was so great to reunite with fellow T-birds. Even though it had been less than six months since we all saw each other, after spending 24/7 together for the last two years, we had all been going through withdrawals. Marne looked angelic in a beautiful gown and her husband, Sam, quite debonair in his bespoke suit. I remember loving the location as it was surrounded by one of the famous great lakes and created quite the ambience. Inside the ballroom after the ceremony, the combination of Sam’s spirited Syrian guests, T-birds and well-fed guests fueled by liquid courage was just the right recipe for magical marriage reception mayhem. Much of the rest of the evening was a blur from then on involving more merriment, and the next day most of the guests woke up with happy smiles, tired feet and a recollection of a darn good time! This is why Marne gets the Merry Minny Mayhem award.

BATTLE OF THE PARADISE DESTINATIONS

It’s time for the last battle of the ThunderWeddings! Which ThunderCouple tied the knot in the most beautiful tropical paradise? In one corner we have Renee Hammond ’06 and Matt Gregg '06, and in the other corner we have Hanan Wajih ’04 and Gregg White '04. Here are the facts to consider:

Renee and Matt

Paradise location: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Ambiance: Beautiful blue ocean, swaying palm trees and sunny blue skies.

Local entertainment: Mariachi band.

Wedding colors: White and teal.

T-bird presence: The wedding was officiated by a T-bird classmate/pastor. More than 10 other alumni attended.

After party: Mexican-style villa.

Hanan and Gregg

Paradise location: Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Ambiance: Stunning beach backdrop, golden-hued sunsets and butterflies.

Local entertainment: Steel drummers and a violinist.

Wedding colors: White and teal.

T-bird presence: A T-bird was part of the bridal train. Overall, more than 10 other alumni attended.

After party: Jamaican-style villa.

MOST DRAMATIC

Tracey Nguyen ’06 has always had a flair for the dramatic, which is probably what made us bond in the first place. One would be amazed at the squeals that could emanate from such a tiny person, and as my roommate in grad school, I was subject to many of these: “I just got my 20th job offer” (loud squeal, happy dance) … “Another straight A trimester!” (loud squeal, happy dance) … “Jimmy Choo shoe sale!” (loudest squeal, happy dance!). Although in the spirit of full disclosure, I probably joined the squeal-fest at the Choo shoe sale discovery. Anyway, I think you get the picture that we are both easily excitable and thankfully our friends have learned to tolerate us as is. When she told me that her Irish-Chinese boyfriend had proposed and she was getting married in August 2011, you can imagine that we easily reverted back to our grad school foolery and allowed ourselves to have yet another happy dance squeal-fest. What we did not, however, anticipate was that her wedding would just happen to be the same weekend as Hurricane Irene. Talk about dramatic celebrations, but what should one have expected? We kicked off the marital bliss celebrations with a bachelorette party in the original “Hurricane City,” New Orleans. Fortunately the event organizers at the Mandarin Oriental were able to still make it a wonderfully special event, and the bride made the walk down the aisle looking amazing in her gown, which she later changed into another gorgeous reception gown. We didn’t even notice that there was windy chaos happening outside as we enjoyed the festivities. Trying to escape and get a flight back to the less dramatic Valley of the Sun in Arizona is a story for yet another day.

DREAM COME TRUE AWARD

It is almost impossible to grow up in Nigeria without having some exposure to Indian culture through movies, food, fabric, etc. I guess our mutual love of spicy food, brightly colored outfits, music, dancing and extravagant weddings makes this the case. Thus, from when I was a child, one of my all-time dreams was to be cast in the remake of the movie “Monsoon Wedding” or more realistically be a guest at a fabulous Indian wedding. My dream came true in November 2010 when my good friend Alex George ’05 invited me to India for his wedding. Having always been an understated, low-key person at school, I expected it to be a nice and simple affair. What I got was a multiday, multicity, “fabulocity extravaganza” that surpassed any Indian wedding dreams I may have had. We started the celebrations in Kerala in the South and ending up in New Delhi in the North. I had retired my saris after over a week of nonstop events and thus didn’t quite make the final soiree in Singapore, but the pictures confirmed that the celebration continued in great style. Used to “small, intimate Nigerian weddings” that typically have about 1,000 guests, I was in awe at what had to have been more than 5,000 guests. (Might be a slight hyperbole, but I gave up counting after 2,000.) Colorful guests adorned in fine jewelry, the mother of all food buffets ranging from Indian to Continental carving stations, entertaining Bollywood performances at the Sangeet, cruising down the backwaters of Alleppey in a gorgeous houseboat, being chauffeured everywhere, sari shopping and just generally being pampered like a princess are just a few of the reasons why this exquisite trip to India will have me coming back for more.

I hope you have enjoyed taking this journey through the past decade via T-bird weddings. I look forward to seeing some of you at future ones.

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