AUR’s first ever recipient of the David T. Colin Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, Bliss Holloway, discusses AUR, Professor Walston, and giving back.
Bliss Holloway attended The American University of Rome from 2001 to 2004 when he graduated Cum Laude and with departmental honors with a BA in International Relations and Global Politics. While at AUR, he connected with late International Relations Professor James Walston and maintained that relationship until Walston's passing in 2014. Bliss continues to support both AUR and the International Relations and Global Politics department and was honored for his dedication and service at the Annual Rome Alumni Reunion, 2016, with the David T. Colin Alumni Award for Distinguished Service. He currently works as a Cinematographer and lives with his wife and son in Seattle, Washington.
Why did you choose to study at AUR?
I came to AUR as a second semester sophomore, having spent a year each at 2 different colleges in the US, as well as 2 years outside of any formal education system since graduating from High School. I was in Rome studying Italian for a 3-month stint when I discovered that there was an American University here which would accept my class credits from my previous schools, and the International Relations program at AUR seemed like a perfect fit for my international background and my current ambitions.
Why do you think Professor Walston was dedicated to AUR for so long?
Professor Walston was a true teacher and an incredible academic mind. His devotion to AUR stemmed from his relationships with the students, his love of Italy, and Rome in particular, and an unflappable drive to be a force for good in the world. He had a very strong belief that he could contribute to students’ world views through teaching and through practical exposure to the political realities of any given situation. I believe that he found a perfect confluence of inspirations at AUR, in that he could incorporate his work-study trips into a rigorous academic program and truly teach people about politics and the world.
Describe your relationship with AUR and Prof. Walston since graduating in 2004.
I consider my time at AUR to be the formative period of my adult life. My entire trajectory shifted from the moment I applied to go to school here, and through the teachers, staff and students I spent my time with, I created the foundation for everything I am pursuing in life today. Professor Walston was an amazing teacher, a mentor, and a very dear friend. We stayed in close contact through the years since I graduated, and always found time to meet up, wherever in the world our paths might cross.
Did Prof. Walston know you pursued cinematography? If so, how was he supportive?
Professor Walston is actually responsible for the first documentary I ever shot! I can’t say it was a very good one, but he was definitely supportive. A year after my graduation from AUR, he and I went on a scouting trip to Kosovo to see if we might be able to bring a group of students there on a work-study trip. This was in 2005, so things were still a lot “dicier” than they are now. I was already taking film classes at the Scuola di Cinema in Monti, and when the opportunity arose, I grabbed my camera and we set off without much of a plan, and only a few local contacts. I documented the whole trip, sometimes rolling my camera in secret during meetings with UN officials, and upon our return I put together a short documentary that he used for a student introduction to the current situation in Kosovo.
What is your fondest memory of Prof. Walston?
My most memorable experience of Professor Walston centers around the Ghana field trip study we structured together in 2004. I had been through many classes and traveled to a lot of places that were part of his curriculum. In Ghana, I was able to show him around. For me it was a very grown-up feeling, because suddenly here was a place that was familiar and comfortable to me, and I could finally contribute to opening up a piece of the world to him.
What made you and your family foundation, The Seabury Foundation, decide to give to AUR in memory of Prof. Walston?
The Seabury Foundation has always been geared towards giving grants in the realm of education. When AUR decided to create a scholarship fund in memory of Professor Walston, I immediately wanted to help make that initiative viable. The study trips were an integral part of my education, and they were a huge part of his vision for the broad-reaching curriculum of the IR program. Making those trips accessible to students who might otherwise not be able to participate seemed to me like an ideal way to honor Professor Walston’s legacy.
Are you involved in other ways at the University? If so, how?
At this point, I am actively pursuing ways to get more involved with AUR. I believe that the Alumni core of this University feels very strongly about their educational experience. Now that many of us are a few years removed from our time here, it feels like a great moment to look back and ensure that others will have access to the same opportunities we did. I hope to be a lot more involved with AUR in the coming years, and so far I have received enthusiastic responses from everyone from faculty to administration to board members. Everyone sees the benefit for Alumni involvement. It’s up to us to do our side of the work.
What would you say to other Alumni who have given and are thinking of giving back to AUR? Why now?
As a small University, AUR will always rely on Alumni and other interested parties to achieve the very best it can. We don’t have endowments or support from large organizations and corporations. AUR thrives because the faculty believe it is an exceptional place to educate students, because it provides a unique opportunity, and because the students care about exploring the world. Every bit counts, whether we give to the Walston fund or participate in another annual pledge. This institution has a lot to offer the world, and with everyone’s help, it can continue to provide that exceptional experience to many more generations.