An International Homecoming
October 8, 2019
Lajos Petro (MFA ’01) traveled over 6,000 miles from Budapest to attend Chapman Family Homecoming, his first visit to campus in 16 years.
Saturday evening, as Chapman Family Homecoming was winding down, President Daniele Struppa approached a table at the Alumni Panther Pub Party in the Keck Center and said, “I heard there’s someone here who traveled the furthest for Homecoming.” With that, Lajos Petro MFA ’01 introduced himself and said, “I guess it’s me…I came from Hungary.”
Struppa’s reaction was similar to everyone else’s who met Petro, “Really?! That’s fantastic!” A fun conversation full of battling heavy accents and a round of happy photos with the president and other alumni ensued. Petro sat back down and said, “THAT was fantastic!”
Lajos Petro came to the United States in the late ’90s in search of his Masters of Fine Arts and only knew of one school offering the degree he wanted – U.S.C. While at a Hungarian restaurant in Los Angeles, the owner advised Petro to talk to his friend, Bob Bassett, and it wasn’t long before Petro made the decision to attend Chapman University.
Through his studies in TV and Film Production, Petro made a great group of friends with whom he still stays in contact. Many of them worked on the TV show, “Dialogue with Jim Doti” which aired on KOCE, Orange County’s PBS station. He has the best memories from that experience, especially his time spent with Professor Jay Boylan and friends Pamela Ezell ’81 (MFA ’87, Ph.D ’18), Casey Kasprzyk ’01 and Laurie McLaughlin ’88.
Keeping in Touch with Chapman Through the Years
Petro returned to Budapest in 2003 and has not been back to Chapman since, but he feels very connected to his alma mater through the school’s website, the Alumni Newsletter, and even Google Earth. He is the only Chapman alum from or living in Hungary, so he feels quite remote from the school that holds such a special place in his heart and looks forward to the monthly emails.
“They let me know what’s going on. I get homesick for Chapman at times – it usually goes away after about 15 minutes, but I like that I can stay in touch through the internet even when I’m so far away.”
Andi Doddridge, Director of Alumni Engagement, was thrilled to hear that Petro was staying connected from a distance. “Our alumni have such wonderful stories to tell, as does the university, and we strive to share those in our newsletter. That we can make a connection with Lajos – and other alumni across the country and abroad – is vital. We want all alumni to continue their lifelong connection to Chapman and want to come home, whether it’s for Homecoming, other Chapman events, or just to say hi. How exciting that Lajos came all the way from Budapest – that has to be a record!”
Coming Home to Chapman University
McLaughlin took Petro on a 4-hour walking tour of campus before all of the Homecoming activities began. His first impression at almost every stop was a “head explosion” moment – making him semi-speechless. DeMille Hall, where the majority of his classes were held, is under construction, so he couldn’t re-trace those steps; but when he went into Beckman Hall, which opened while he was a student, he was speechless.
Ever the film student, he said, “It was just like the ending of “The Planet of the Apes” when they show the Statue of Liberty. Everything was the same – it even had the same smell! It was like ‘I know this place.’ What an amazing feeling!”
After stopping at the “Sunken Lawn” (now the Bert C. Williams Mall) and taking in the quad, they ventured to Dodge College’s Knott Studios, DMAC and the Hilbert Museum. Staying equally impressed with every building and its contents (he loved the movie posters donated by the DeMille family), Petro commented on the students that he saw and interacted with.
“They were so focused when working, but they were also smart, nice and helpful. Honestly, I don’t think that kids are like that in the real world!”
Petro has taken all that he learned at Chapman and puts it to use daily. He produces live game shows that are shown in 26 countries, as well as live teleshopping programming (like QVC) in eight countries. “Without Chapman, I couldn’t be the producer that I am now. It was a total turning point in my life. Dr. Doti was always pushing for us to be Global Citizens and I kind of feel like I’m doing that in Hungary, working with so many countries.”
Hoping for a Chapman Family Tradition
Wrapping up their tour, McLaughlin and Petro took in the Leatherby Libraries and met with Dean Charlene Baldwin. Once again, his mind was blown with the impressiveness of the building and all that was held inside. At the Book Store, he bought a “TON of stuff” to take home to his wife, 3-year old twins and the rest of his family.
“It was very strange to buy stuff from my university for my kids – it really made me very emotional. You know, I would tell my Chapman friends all the time that I would like to come back, but it was never the right time, so I think they didn’t believe it when I came.
“Now I want to come back with my family; I want to see Jim Doti next time and more friends. And really, although it won’t be for a while, I want my kids to go to school here. Yesterday I saw kids that impressed me…and I want my kids to be like them!”
This isn’t Kansas, nor is it Budapest, but for Lajos Petro, there really is no place like Chapman – it is home!