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Tea with 11,000 Smith Friends
Every Friday afternoon, thousands of Smith women around the world brew a cup of their tastiest tea and cozy up to their favorite ... computer or hand-held device. Together, they’re reliving one of Smith’s most time-honored traditions—Friday afternoon tea—but with a distinctly 21st-century twist.
Friday Teas in the Cloud: Where Smithies Sip and Shine launched in March as a Facebook group and immediately took hold. Within weeks, hundreds of alumnae—from Bethesda, Tucson and Chicago to Guangzhou, China and Sydney, Australia—began pouring their hearts out and getting sisterly support, advice and morale boosts in return. Today, the group has nearly 11,000 members and is a vivid example of the deep bonds among Smithies and the power of the Smith network.
The Friday Teas event is the brainchild of Gina Ko ’99, a New York City real-estate broker by day and a social media and digital expert by night. Her life is full, but she craved the inspiration and camaraderie that she got from other alumnae. That’s when she thought of employing the extensive reach of social media to re-create the kind of honest conversations she remembered at Smith’s house teas. “Friday tea was a chance to sit with friends and take a break and think about the past week and reflect on our accomplishments,” Ko says. Friday Teas in the Cloud, she says, brings Smithies of all ages and locations “back to the parlor.”
Here’s how it works: Members (no non-alumnae allowed) post their graduation year, their Smith house and their current location along with photos of their tea-related items—an heirloom teacup, a packet of tea, a favorite snack—and share anecdotes of their “best of the week” and “worst of the week” moments.
Friday Teas in the Cloud is a private, alumnae-only Facebook group, meaning that new members are added by invitation only and non-members cannot see any of the posts.
These intensely personal posts may be a joyous birth announcement (“a healthy, hearty daughter”) or the heartbreaking acknowledgment of the loss of an infant; they could be about job triumphs, brutally honest confessions about a spouse’s addiction or the challenges of overcoming postpartum depression. Such openness isn’t surprising to Ko. “As Smithies, we feel a safety net within the community,” she says. “People aren’t going to judge and, if anything, will provide comfort and share their own personal experiences that are similar and offer resources to help.”
Posts happen only on Fridays, upwards of 1,000 a week, Ko says, with about 40 percent of group members commenting and liking.
Here are five things to know about this new alumnae tradition.
1. The idea started to take shape nearly a decade ago. When Ko first joined Facebook, she started posting pictures of her cup of tea and a lemon bar as a way to connect with her Smith friends. She started a group called Global Tea, but it didn’t take off at the time. Then, last spring, when a Smith friend was leaving New York for a new job, Ko realized their time together was going to be cut short. That’s when she thought of the group again. The timing was right, and, thanks to the power of social media sharing, nearly 10,000 alumnae had joined within two months.
2. It’s not just about the tea. What draws people are the deep connections that form among alumnae. “You meet a Smithie anywhere, you hug and ask which house you lived in, and it’s the beginning of a connection,” Ko says. “[Friday Teas in the Cloud] is a way for us to enjoy our community and use it as a force to build up ourselves and our community.”
3. There are no insult-driven shouting matches on Friday Teas in the Cloud. Guidelines encourage supportive conversations, and the format makes it easy to share feedback in constructive ways. “The group is a space where people don’t have to be perfect but are allowed to just be,” Ko says.
4. The group has inspired in-person meetups and new friendships around the world. Earlier this year, Ko and Cheryl Hammond ’93 organized the first Global Alumnae Tea. On June 24, more than 500 Smithies met in person for tea. At least 94 events were held in 89 cities across 15 countries. “That was pretty awesome,” Ko says.
5. More in-person teas and even more groups are in the works. Another worldwide tea is being planned to celebrate the group’s first anniversary in March. Discussions among group members have led to 20 new Facebook groups on a range of topics, from personal development to Smithies in real estate. “There are more than 40,000 active alumnae around the world,” Ko says. “I’m excited by all the potential connections we can create locally and globally. I see us as 40,000 diamonds, and no matter what we’re going through, we can always shine brightly as Smithies.”
This story appears in the Winter 2016-17 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.