Kate Gagnon ’14 wasn’t new to the Denison Everywhere experience.
The chance to reconnect with old friends from The Hill and meet Denisonians from past eras was appealing to a graduate who had moved home to Portland, Maine, from New York City two years earlier.
The night of Jan. 27, 2017, marked Gagnon’s first Denison Everywhere event. What walked through the front door of the Flatbread Company that evening changed her life.
Her future husband.
Shrey Malla ’13.
“You never know who you’re going to meet at one of these events,” Gagnon said, laughing.
The 19th annual Denison Everywhere is set for Jan. 31, 2024, at 6 p.m. local time in venues around the world. A record-breaking 2,000 registrations from alums, family and friends of the university already have been received.
Good times, great memories, and potential networking opportunities await. But stories like the one belonging to Gagnon and Malla, which sounds lifted from a Hallmark Channel movie script, remain pretty rare.
“There were a lot of coincidences, that’s for sure,” Malla said.
Gagnon and Malla, a native of Katmandu, Nepal, were not friends during their time at Denison. Their paths never crossed when they each spent time in New York.
Malla, who works in finance, might never have left New York had his company not reneged on a pledge to sponsor his work visa. With time running out, another Denison connection helped him land a new job in Portland.
One night in 2016, Malla and Gagnon were introduced through mutual friends. They started talking and were surprised to learn they had been traveling in the same orbit for years.
“It was a completely random accident that we met,” Malla recalled.
Malla heard about the Denison Everywhere event in Portland and messaged Gagnon, wondering if she planned to attend.
“We hit it off, and soon after we started dating,” Gagnon said. “The rest is history.”
The couple married in 2021 and held a Nepali ceremony the following year before having a big wedding in Kittery Point, Maine, where most of the bridesmaids and groomsmen were Denisonians.
“During the father of the bride speech, my dad talked about how two people from different backgrounds were brought together by an unlikely series of events,” Gagnon said. “It makes for a good Denison story.”
An untold number of good Denison stories emerge from the university’s popular off-campus event. Here are just a few.
A James Beard connection
Megan Storms ’18 still has the business card given to her by Julie Marshall ’83 five years ago.
Storms was an environmental studies major with a focus in food. Months from graduation — with some idea of what she wanted to do with her degree — Storms attended a Denison event in New York City. There, Marshall introduced her to the James Beard Foundation, a nonprofit culinary arts organization that champions and supports the causes of restaurants, chefs, and other industry professionals.
Storms loved the concept. While there were no immediate openings, she stayed in touch with Marshall.
“Making that Denison connection was key,” Storms recalled. “Julie kept taking my calls, and a year later she let me know about a job that was coming open on the foundation’s impact team that supports independent restaurants and chefs.”
Storms is now the foundation’s associate director of women’s leadership programs in New York.
Marshall, who’s no longer with the foundation, considered it gratifying to assist a Denisonian just starting her career. Not only did Marshall notify Storms of the vacancy, she spoke to management about the candidate’s attributes that she gleaned from their conversations.
“I gave them a heads-up that she went to Denison just like I had, and that she seemed very passionate and committed,” Marshall said. “It was great to see it all come to fruition.”
Rocky Mountain highs
Emily Merrell ’09 never tires of seeing familiar faces in new places. She helped host Denison Everywhere events in New York City and San Francisco before moving to Denver in 2022.
She’s found swapping life on the coasts for the fresh powder of Rockies has not changed her attitude about one of Denison’s signature events. The energy and connectivity remain the same.
Merrell has collected many stories over the years, including the time in San Francisco when she met a former Big Red football player who went to school with her. The athlete she remembered from Denison had become a first-time dad.
“It was so cute seeing this guy who used to smash beer cans on his head talking about the pride of being a father,” said Merrell, founder of Second Degree Society, which creates connections for entrepreneurs and corporate professionals.
She’s enjoyed similar experiences in Denver. Merrell’s arrival in Colorado coincides with a boom in the region’s alumni engagement. Denver and Atlanta are two of the fastest-growing cities for Denison Everywhere. Denver’s 2020 event attracted 25 registrations — a year ago, the total grew to 78.
Merrell has joined forces with Laura Lee Gastis ’91 and George Gastis ’92, who are hosting this year’s event at their urban farm and restaurant, Grow + Gather, in nearby Englewood, Colorado.
After living in two of the nation’s largest urban areas, Merrell is delighted to find so many friends from college living in the Rockies.
“I love catching up with Denison grads,” she said. “It’s as if no time has passed and I love seeing where they are in their lives post Denison.”
Nearly 86% of Denisonians in Georgia
Nino Vashakidze ’13 savored her time at Denison, but after returning home, she was in no rush to reconnect.
Vashakidze lives in the Republic of Georgia, a small transcontinental nation nearly 6,000 miles and nine time zones removed from campus. She works as a deputy director in a meat company in the capital city of Tbilisi.
Her career took precedence over reliving college days with friends. But as time passed, Vashakidze grew nostalgic for her alma mater.
“As I was getting older, I was gaining more appreciation for my Denison experience,” Vashakidze said. “I wanted to start getting together.”
She messaged Saba Iordanishvili ’11, the first Georgia native to graduate from the university, about co-hosting a Denison Everywhere event in Tbilisi.
Six people attended. Put another way, that was nearly 86% of all Denisonians living in Georgia at the time.
Tbilisi is one of 13 international sites scheduled to hold a Jan. 31 event. The Georgians host two winter meetups, including one in late December that current students, home from college, are encouraged to attend.
There are seven alums living in the Tbilisi region. One an American, Jack Hubbell Rosene ’11, was a college roommate of Iordanishvili.
Vashakidze wants to expand her Denison Everywhere roster, and that means convincing a pair of 2022 graduates to join the fold. She was once in their position and understands the initial reluctance.
She also knows the fun of reconnecting with alums and raising a glass to a time well spent on the other side of the globe.