As a California school enlightened by a global sensibility, Stevenson seeks to send forth graduates who have learned how to help make their communities better--wherever their journeys may take them. Mike Tamburri ‘94--a first-generation American, born and raised in Carmel, who grew up to be a true citizen of the world--embodies this tradition.
Mike was raised by his mother and grandparents, who had immigrated to the US from Czechoslovakia via Uruguay in the 1960s. They enjoyed Carmel’s stability and security, and lived in town for the entirety of his childhood. Mike, however, yearned to see more of the world. So, after graduating from RLS, he chose to attend college at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences (UK), where he majored in international relations. After graduating from LSE, he joined the Peace Corps, and volunteered in Mali and Guatemala. In both countries, he was assigned to work with people who had been affected by forced migration, as a result of violent or unsafe conditions in their home countries.
Mike found his service as a Peace Corps volunteer to be both incredibly challenging and fulfilling. One his assignment was over, he realized he wanted to dedicate his life to humanitarian work, and he decided to pursue a career in US foreign assistance full-time. In the years since, Mike has been stationed in eight different countries. While the locations and nature of his work are dynamic, his driving motivation is constant: he hopes to help improve the lives of people who are living in societies less stable and less safe than our own.
He explains, “Broadly speaking, my work supports an enabling environment for self-determination in societies experiencing political change. I manage programs helping advance peace and representative governance in areas of conflict. Most of my work has been short term—2 to 3 years—and lays the foundation for traditional development by promoting reconciliation, sparking economies, and promoting independent media. I’ve lived in Afghanistan (for 8 years), Pakistan, Myanmar, and Somalia and have worked intermittently in Lebanon, Madagascar, Uganda, and Colombia. In between international postings, I’ve set up a home in Washington, DC. And, I also try to make it back to Carmel every year!”
Though Mike’s life is somewhat nomadic, his connection to Stevenson keeps him grounded. He regularly meets and communicates with fellow alums who live near wherever he is working, and prioritizes his close relationships with Stevenson friends and teachers. He explains, “I’m godfather to Winslow Bonifas, the son of Josh Bonifas ‘94. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity over the years to catch up with Jalil Afridi ’93, in Kabul, Afghanistan and Islamabad, Pakistan. And, lastly, in March, I participated in the East Asia Virtual Reunion from Yangon, Myanmar. I didn’t speak with anyone I had met before, but there was an amazing tone that brought up a warm sense of belonging for me.” He has also stayed in touch with several of his Stevenson teachers.
Although he graduated from RLS in 1994, and has long felt like he belonged to the School community, Mike experienced a new, surprising, and significant strengthening of his connection to RLS in 2004, when he was awarded the annual Samuel Kahn Award. Established in 1964 by Mrs. Rosalind Kahn in honor of her husband, the Kahn Award honors a member of the 10th Reunion Class who exemplifies the values the School has taught from its beginning: to do one’s best, to pursue one’s passion, and to serve others. As someone who discovered that foreign assistance was his passion while serving in the Peace Corps—and then chose to pursue it tirelessly as a career in order to help others—Mike was an especially deserving Kahn Award recipient.
On the surface, Mike’s work might seem worlds away from current students’ daily life, but he believes there are more similarities than many people realize, and feels his career and worldview have their roots in his Stevenson experiences. He explains, “A lot of my work involves bringing youth together and leaving them with an empowering sense of togetherness. To me, 500 people laughing together, three times a week at assembly—it was exactly that.”
There’s no doubt that Stevenson instilled in Mike a genuine appreciation for the power of community, and it was here where he learned to value connecting with peers. But, being a Stevenson student also helped him discover and value his authentic self—an essential step on his path. Mike reports that he felt lucky when he graduated high school, because his non-Stevenson friends pointed out that he already knew how to comfortably, kindly, and respectfully remain a member of a social group, while simultaneously holding onto his own opinions, values, and distinctive identity—even if they didn’t align with everyone else’s. He gives credit to the School faculty and administrators for this early self-assuredness, saying: “To me, Stevenson wanted us to seek our own identities while being conscious of our roles as members of a greater community. I’ve never lost that. It was a safe environment in which we could develop a sense of self.”
When asked what advice he would give current RLS students who also have big, world-changing dreams like he did, Mike stresses the importance of vulnerability and self-awareness—and pushing yourself into discomfort as a tool for growth. He encourages students: “Don’t hide in your confidence. Look for opportunities where you find yourself totally ignorant—then keep on pushing.”