By Nuzhat Hayat Khan (YES 2018-2019, Bangladesh, placed by AYA/AIFS in El Paso, TX)
On August 11, 2023, we celebrated 20 years of the YES program in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a grand alumni reunion and a nostalgic look down the memory lane.
About 150 people were in attendance including YES Alumni, program staff, U.S. Embassy Dhaka officials, and many others associated with the program in the last 20 years. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the organizing team that executed this event gracefully. As the YES Program has given me so many precious takeaways in life and continues to do so with the memories I am able to create with my fellow alumni, there could not be any better opportunity for me to do something meaningful for the program than to participate in organizing its 20 year celebration.
To organize the event, our preparations had started about six months prior to the event date, at which time we brainstormed what we really wanted to do to celebrate the program. We reached the conclusion of, what better way to celebrate YES than gathering all of the alumni under one roof and looking back at the impact the program has made? We then confirmed the venue to be SKS Sena Gourab Hall in Dhaka and divided ourselves in several teams such as Food, Décor, Designing, Performance, etc. to handle the execution. We all gave our very best until the big day to bring all of these factors to life and showcase a night of celebration that all the guests would remember. After all, it was for the program that gave us a life in a year!
Fast forward to August, the celebration started in the evening with all the guests gradually joining us. We were honored to have the presence of Stephen F. Ibelli, Public Affairs Counselor; Sharlina Hussain-Morgan, Director for Public Engagement Unit; and Bren Flanigan, Deputy Director for Public Engagement at the U.S. Embassy Dhaka. Mushfiq Hassan, who is the Youth Exchanges and Alumni Coordinator at U.S. Embassy Dhaka was also present with us.
The event started with welcoming remarks from Nawab Wasi Mahmud Moni, the Program Director of the YES Program in Bangladesh. He also thanked all the staff members, schools, teachers, and students who were affiliated with the YES Program over the past 20 years who contributed to making the program what it is today. Our esteemed guests from the U.S. Embassy then also gave their best wishes and kind remarks, after which alumni conducted a presentation during which we looked at the history of the YES program. The presentation also showcased all the meaningful projects the alumni have done in the last 20 years and the core memories they created.
After the presentation, we presented videos of alumni who are currently living abroad giving their remarks on 20 years of the YES program. Everyone present at the event was so happy to see the familiar faces in the videos after so long! Finally, we ended the night with some nostalgic American music like the “Cha Cha Slide” and “Party in the U.S.A.”!
My favorite part of the event was getting to witness all of the excited faces of the alumni who were seeing each other after a long number of years. Everyone reminisced about their exchange year and work as an alumnus/alumna the whole evening, and that, to me, felt like a true celebration of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study Program.