A group of alumni stand in front of the Coliseum.

A group of Morehead-Cain Alumni visited Rome and Tuscia, Italy, from October 31 to November 7. The trip was the Foundation’s first alumni group travel experience.

Written by Robert Wynn ’76, a participant in Morehead-Cain’s first alumni group travel tour to Italy in fall 2023

A couple smile for the camera outside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Robert and his wife, Millie, outside St. Peter’s Basilica.

One word that was most closely associated to the Morehead-Cain ethos back in my day was “extraordinary.”

The organization’s mission, in so many words, was, and I believe still is, to identify extraordinary individuals who are destined to lead extraordinary lives. Ergo, it’s no wonder that the inaugural Morehead-Cain alumni group travel tour would be no less than, well, extraordinary.

The very selection of Rome was harmoniously aligned with Morehead Cain’s ambition. Rome is the umbilical bridge between ancient and modern civilization. And as aptly stated by Chris Bradford, Morehead-Cain as an institution and through its scholars aspires to leverage lessons from the past as a foundation for building our best future. 

A traveler that Millie, my wife, and I met at the Rome airport suggested that the city was like lasagna. It has multiple layers topographically, historically, and socioeconomically. And thanks to the exquisite planning of the Morehead-Cain staff and our tour planner, Jordan Cook, we got to taste it all.

Alumni look at a statue of a man praying.

A work of Bernini at St. Peter’s Basilica.

We saw the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, and several churches. And not just any churches—the ones we saw were as stunning as they were ubiquitous. St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest in the world, was worth the trip all by itself. But to follow that with private tours of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum created a day in our lives that will never be forgotten.

The manner in which our multi-generational crew navigated and witnessed the sights was something to experience and savor. We received first-class ground transport from one wondrous venue to the next. We saw paintings and sculptures by Michelangelo, billowy works of marble by Bernini, and we toured the stunning artistic trove that is the Borghese Gallery and Museum.

Each day found a way to be more superlative than the one before. Jerry Horner, Jr. ’88 and David Ballard ’78 welcomed us in their lovely Italian-esque homes. We were treated to a sumptuous formal luncheon and garden stroll with Princess Donna Claudia Ruspoli and her nephew at their privately owned castle in the ancient village of Vignanello.

We sipped champagne and enjoyed delectable hors d’oeuvres as we toured the Embassy of the Holy Order of the Knights of Malta. Some of us also visited the art studio of Monica Lundy and Daniele Puppi, who shared and discussed their respective recent visual and multi-media art installations.

Two people stand outside the French Academy with a manicured lawn and hedges around them.

The French Academy in the Villa Medici.

We then paid visits to the French Academy in the Villa Medici and the United States Academy of Arts and Humanities, where we actually met two American artists in residence, Zachary Fabri and Dread Scott. (As a sidebar, Scott delivered a quick and torrid review of his social-justice-themed artistic milieu. Although his focus was on the United States, being in Rome, many of us mentally connected the dots from the United States’ record of slavery, oppression, and exploitation to similar episodes throughout the annals of human history dating back to and even before the Roman Empire.)

True to form, our last day was our capstone. It began with a peek into the precursor of Roman antiquity and ended with a showcase of the Eternal City’s majestic grandeur. We learned about Rome’s prequel at the Etruscan Museum, and then Peter and Bettina Mallinson hosted us to a dining experience reminiscent of a Roman Aristocratic imperial style banquet at one of the city’s elite private clubs. (I could wax effusive here, but that would be improper).

The food, service, and accommodations were all first-rate throughout the entire trip. Kudos to the Morehead-Cain staff, Jordan Cook, Mino, and all the other tour guides for curating such an indelible memory. Special thanks go to Tonya Turner Carroll ’89 and Ken Smith ’84 who were also in on the planning.

A group of alumni smile for the camera while seated for a meal in an open-air balcony. There are trees and buildings in the background.

Alumni sharing a meal together in Rome.

This journey of a lifetime was made all the more extraordinary by the auspicious convergence of diverse Morehead-Cain family members who decided to make the trip.

Alumni spanning four graduation decades (the seventies, eighties, nineties, and twenty-twenties) were represented in the excursion party. This included one current scholar, Jack Goldsmith ’24, who was studying close by in Tuscany for the semester. We shared and learned about one another even as we enjoyed immersive exposure to Rome’s boundless history.

Our bonding and discussions were like synapses stretching and connecting as we morphed into a collective brain trust, sharing insights and spawning new ideas.

Perhaps the true purpose of the Morehead-Cain alumni group travel tour was not as much about seeing the sights as it was about absorbing the profundity of the long arc of time and appreciating the specialness of our tenure on this earth.

The trip, in so many ways, reminded us that in the grand scheme of things, life is fleeting, yet our individual and collective impact can be enduring. As a global civilization, we have come a very long way. As a member of the first alumni tour, I am awash with palpable awareness of the robust potential of this unique and propitious moment in time.

—Robert Wynn ’76

More about alumni group travel with Morehead-Cain

One of the great joys of being part of the Morehead-Cain community is spending time with “cousins” of all ages at regional gatherings and the triennial Alumni Forum in Chapel Hill.

The next group travel opportunity will be the Civil Rights tour of the South from April 11 to April 15, 2024, featuring Taylor Branch ’68, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the Civil Rights trilogy America in the King Years. Next fall, alumni will visit London to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the British Morehead-Cain Programme with our British alumni.

Learn more about upcoming travel opportunities.