Were You There?

Taylor Swift’s upcoming 2023 tour sparked a frenzy that turned into a fiasco for unprepared Ticketmaster.

Remember when she played Bridges Auditorium?

Taylor Swift performing in Bridges Auditorium on October 15, 2012.

Close-up photo of Taylor Swift performing in Bridges Auditorium on October 15, 2012.

Taylor Swift performs in Bridges Auditorium on October 15, 2012. Photos courtesy of Frank Micelotta for VH1 Storytellers

It’s been 10 years since Swift’s live acoustic concert on the Pomona campus on October 15, 2012. The 22-year-old played for about 3,000 of her millennial peers at The Claremont Colleges, thanks to Harvey Mudd students who leveraged strategy and social media to tally the top score in the “Taylor Swift on Campus” contest sponsored by Chegg, the textbook rental and edtech company.

The Bridges concert even led to a wedding. Tyler Womack ’15 and Vicente Robles ’16 met at Pomona and became good friends after Robles gave Womack the Swift tickets he won in a lottery. After a 10-year courtship, the couple married on campus in Richardson Garden next to Seaver House. “You Belong With Me,” was part of the early romance that led to the couple’s wedding on campus on June 18, 2022.

Swift is scheduled to launch her tour in March and wrap up in the Los Angeles area in August with multiple dates at SoFi Stadium. Never ever getting back together? Ms. Swift, it’s a mere 45 miles to Marston Quad.

A Mufti Revival

Vintage Mufti messages

Vintage Mufti messages courtesy of Kristen McCabe Romero PZ ’92, Advancement Communications and Events

There’s talk lately of strengthening connections between generations of Sagehens through the College’s traditions. One that has been missing in action was known as Mufti, a secret society whose members used to post anonymous paper messages laden with puns and other word play on buildings around campus. Often, the messages had to do with campus controversies of the moment that are indecipherable years later. In recent years, Mufti had gone silent. But in September, a message stuck to campus spots that included a bench, a lamppost and a few buildings provided commentary on the heat, drought and college rankings and concluded, “Fear not, comrades, for MUFTI is near/To bring you all some meager cheer….” It also included a QR code. Very 21st century. If you’re ready to spill some tea about Mufti past or present or tell us about your favorite Pomona tradition, write to us at pcm@pomona.edu.

The Sontag Legacy

The name Sontag is a fixture on campus, and Pomona said farewell to a benefactor whose generosity and spirit inspired many when Susan Thomas Sontag ’64 P’95 died in September, more than 28 years after being told she had terminal brain cancer and only a few years to live.

The Sontag legacy at Pomona is immense, but a guide to the family tree may be helpful. Philosophy Professor Frederick E. Sontag, known as Fred, influenced generations of students in his 57 years at the College. It is for him that the Sontag Greek Theatre in the wooded area known as the Wash is named.

Fred’s nephew Frederick B. Sontag HMC ’64, known as Rick, met Susan Thomas while growing up in Long Beach and reconnected when she transferred from UC Berkeley to Pomona when he was a student at Harvey Mudd. They became inseparable, married and eventually purchased a small aviation components business, Unison Industries, that they built into a company with 1,500 employees and nearly $200 million in annual revenue before selling it to General Electric in 2002.

The couple became extraordinary supporters of education, particularly with gifts to Pomona and Harvey Mudd College. Each college has a residence hall named in their honor. (Pomona’s LEED Platinum Sontag Hall was completed in 2011.) The couple also established the Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity, popularly known as the Hive, to serve The Claremont Colleges, providing both initial operating expenses and an endowment to ensure its longevity.

Beyond campus, they established the Sontag Foundation for brain cancer research and the Brain Tumor Network to help patients affected by brain tumors.

“Their commitment to a greater cause serves as a reminder of our community’s enduring mission,” says Pomona College President G. Gabrielle Starr.

Food Trucks on the Meal Plan

Trucks along Stover Walk became a familiar sight during the past year. The College occasionally invited food vendors that included the usual burger and taco trucks along with offerings from vendors such as West Side Banh Mi, Bollywood Bites and Sugo Italiano.

Students visiting the trucks could use their meal plans. The popular food option was a creative response to temporary staffing shortages in the dining halls caused by widespread labor shortages that accompanied the pandemic.

Top 5 for ‘Best Financial Aid’

Pomona is No. 3 on The Princeton Review’s 2022 list for Best Financial Aid among private colleges. Pomona is one of a handful of institutions committed to need-blind admissions and to meeting the full demonstrated financial need of all students who enroll.

And the Oscar Goes To …

At the moment when Encanto won the Oscar, Rose Portillo ’75—the voice of Señora Guzmán in the 2022 Academy Award winner for best animated feature—was on her way home after performing in a play.

“It happened as I was driving in. Friends were texting me and saying ‘You won! Congratulations!’” Portillo says. “It still feels odd to realize that I actually am a part of this. I still look at it and think: Isn’t that wonderful? My friends won. This is a lovely moment and, I feel, a deserving moment. And then I have another moment of oh, it’s kind of me, too.”

An accomplished actor, writer, director and visual artist as well as a Pomona College theatre lecturer, Portillo was too busy to enjoy the Oscars until after her afternoon performance in the nearly monthlong run of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Anna in the Tropics at Pasadena’s A Noise Within theatre.

“By the time I got home, there was a watch party next door,” Portillo says. “When I walked in, they were all, ‘Congratulations, congratulations,’ which was very sweet and lovely.”

Scene from the film, Encanto. Courtesy of Disney

Besides voicing Sra. Guzmán, mother of the hunky Mariano, Portillo spent two years developing the character of Abuela Alma Madrigal, matriarch of the warm Colombian family whose magical powers not only help them to survive after fleeing a junta but also help to sustain their community.

Portillo calls participating in the production “joyful” and is particularly proud of the animation’s realistic depiction of varied skin tones within a family. She also talks about the invisible effects of unspoken trauma reverberating through generations and the potential for healing. 

She wasn’t the only Sagehen involved in Encanto. Jasmine Reed ’12 was an editorial production supervisor for Walt Disney Animation Studios. Encanto is being celebrated throughout the world. “It is proof that the better we come to truly know each other, the better we can embrace each other. That’s the kind of project I’m always looking for,” Portillo says.

Watson Fellows ’22

For sheer armchair traveling pleasure, we present this year’s Thomas J. Watson Fellowship winners:

Xiao Jiang ’22 and Mark Diaz ’22 are among 42 students selected from 41 private college and university partners to receive $40,000 grants to pursue research projects during 12 months of international travel.

Jiang found care and acceptance in New York City’s Chinatown at the age of 5 when she and her mother came to the U.S. from China. After arriving at Pomona as a Questbridge Match Recipient with a full four-year scholarship, Jiang was worried about returning to her Chinatown for fear of seeing it changed—gentrified —into a place she would no longer recognize as home. As a sophomore, she took an anthropology course and studied the effects of gentrification on Los Angeles’ Chinatown. For her senior project in anthropology, she created a short documentary on how COVID-19 has affected Chinatowns in New York and Los Angeles.

Jiang will spend her Watson year traveling to China, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium to learn how immigrants and Chinese residents engage with Chinatowns to develop a sense of self within a community of like-minded people.

Diaz was a junior in high school when he was first introduced to kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theatre that incorporates dance, music and mime. At Pomona, he drew Emeritus Professor Leonard Pronko out of retirement to study under him and to have Pronko teach a masterclass on kabuki. They staged Narukami Thunder God at Pomona’s Alumni Weekend in 2019 before Pronko’s death later that year.

Thinking about his own ancestors, the Maya and the Basque, Diaz wondered what type of theatre they developed and how it is also under-staged or recognized in the U.S. Diaz will travel to Japan, Spain, Belize and Guatemala to explore traditional dramatic forms: kabuki in Japan, religious dance ceremony in Guatemala and Belize, and pastorale in Spain.

This is Jeopardy!

Some 26,000 students from more than 4,000 colleges auditioned for the chance to be among the 36 competitors in the Jeopardy! National College Championship, televised in February.

Lauren Rodriguez ’22 made the cut and then some, taking home $20,000 after reaching the tournament semifinals.

“I had such a blast competing on the show,” says Rodriguez, a public policy analysis and sociology major whose first post-graduation job is in management consulting. “Being part of the College Championship as opposed to regular Jeopardy! made it so rewarding, because I was able to meet 35 other college kids from all across the country and form friendships with them. We all embraced our inner nerd together and had a lot of fun.”

The tournament champion, University of Texas senior Jaskaran Singh, won $250,000.

Besides cash, Rodriguez took home memories for a lifetime.

As she posted on Instagram to promote the show, “I’ll take Bucket List for 2022, Mayim 🤪


Dr. Martin Hyung-Il Lee

Dr. Martin Hyung-Il LeeLee, the father of Pomona College Trustee Bobby Lee ’02 and Jenny Lee ’07, immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea in 1974, becoming the first in his family to graduate college before going on to medical school with the help of scholarships supplemented by student loans.

As a doctor, Lee for decades served immigrants in Los Angeles’ Koreatown, sometimes even accepting copayments in windowsill chili peppers from elderly widows with limited incomes.

Now students on Lee’s same path to the American dream will benefit from a $1 million gift to Pomona College devoted entirely to scholarships. The Dr. Martin Hyung-Il Lee Scholarship Fund is for students facing financial hardships who come from immigrant families, are first-generation college students and/or are pursuing careers in science or medicine.

Lee’s son Bobby and daughter-in-law Sophia Whang established the fund to honor Dr. Lee, who died in 2021 at the age of 64.

“My father lived the American dream, and this is a way to carry on his memory and ideals,” says Bobby Lee, president and COO of Los Angeles-based JRK Property Holdings.

Barbara Barnard Smith ’42

Barbara Barnard Smith ’42Smith’s remarkable support for the College and non-Western music continued at her passing last year at the age of 101. She left more than $3.5 million to the Music Department through a planned gift, bringing her support to the College over the years to $5.7 million.

Half of her final gift will support the future renovation of Music Department facilities and the naming of a space in honor of the late Professor of Music Katherine J. Hagedorn. The other half will further endow the existing Barbara B. Smith ’42 Fund for Non-Western Music to support ethnomusicology curriculum and other instruction, programming, equipment and performances of non-Western music at the College. Smith’s support made possible Pomona’s non-Western music ensembles, including the Balinese gamelan, West African and Afro-Cuban ensembles.

After graduating from Pomona, Smith studied at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester before embarking on a career teaching at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa from 1949 to 1982. Noting the university’s diverse student body, Smith introduced classes in hula and Hawaiian chant, Korean dance, Chinese dulcimer and Japanese gagaku (court music). She founded UH Mānoa’s ethnomusicology program and established its master’s and Ph.D. ethnomusicology degree programs.

The Highest Beam

The new athletics, recreation and wellness centerThe new athletics, recreation and wellness center adjacent to Bridges Auditorium topped out with the raising of the highest beam in November.

Scheduled to open this fall, the 99,925 square-foot building will feature not only facilities for Pomona-Pitzer Athletics but also a vastly expanded fitness area, plentiful locker rooms, three classrooms, two weight rooms and two large studios for activities such as yoga or spinning.

“This is part of how we reinvent wellness on our campus,” says Miriam Merrill, director of athletics and professor of physical education, noting that wellness is a component of the College’s 2020 Strategic Vision.

Once it opens, visitors to the athletics center may notice a small detail that gives Project Manager Brian Faber pride. The room number of the first-floor studio is a nod to Pomona lore: Studio 147.