All Dressed Up and Great Conversation, Too: What More Could We Want?!

All Dressed Up and Great Conversation, Too: What More Could We Want?!

Categories: Uncategorized

By Union students and Wayward Wisdom Caucus members Jane Wohl and Karl Taps

5 min read

Wayward Wisdom is a new student caucus, formed at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year and representing Union students aged fifty and older. Students fifty and older now represent approximately twenty percent of Union’s student body and contribute another facet of diversity from which we learn, grow, and develop together in community. The Wayward Wisdom caucus’s mission is to foster co-generational dialog within the student community and represent older students’ life experiences, contributions, and needs to Union’s administration and faculty. In the caucus’ inaugural year, Wayward Wisdom hosted two events: a dinner fostering co-generational dialog and a commissioning ceremony recognizing graduating students over fifty.

On Friday evening, April 21, 2023, twenty-five students from Union gathered for dinner in the beautiful rotunda in front of the library.  The evening had been planned as an intergenerational event with the express purpose of good, serious conversation over good food. Members of the Wayward Wisdom caucus recognize that the “elders” at Union have a unique place. We also recognize that ageism is real, and there are times when elders get discounted, much the way children get discounted. The Wayward Wisdom caucus concluded that initiating intergenerational conversations was a way for older and younger Union students to learn from each other. Invitations went out to members of the Wayward Wisdom and members of other student senate caucuses, with the goal of having representatives of all the Union’s age groups in attendance. With wonderful food and good company, who could ask for a better evening? 

The evening began on the third-floor balcony above the rotunda with music provided by George Taylor, one of our Wayward Wisdom caucus members and also a professor of viola at Eastman Conservatory, and Emma Markham, a second-year master of divinity student in Buddhism and Interreligious Engagement, on guitar. Then we moved to the rotunda’s main floor to beautifully set tables with place cards. The committee had put a lot of time into the table planning. Guests’ ages ranged from mid-twenties to a recent graduate who completed his Union program at 80.  The goal of the evening was to enjoy each other’s company, and to find areas of conversation where the perspectives of different generations would be interesting, informative, and illuminating.

After everyone had served themselves from the buffet, Karl Taps, a Wayward Wisdom caucus member and first-year Master of Arts student in Historical Studies, offered the first question for discussion. “Tell us something you are good at or something special that others notice about you.”  He suggested we take 15 minutes to discuss before moving on to the next question. This first question offered a chance for members of each generation to talk about the things they felt confident about and things that they did not. Not surprisingly, no matter what age, we all have places where we feel insecure and unsure of ourselves, whether it is public speaking or going back to school. At my table, it felt comfortable and collegial, with a level of recognition that our insecurities were not all that different from each other’s.

By the end of the evening, we had covered areas like, “How do you feel about your body?” And “What is something you used to hide about yourself but don’t hide anymore?”  By that point in the evening, we no longer needed the prompt questions. Conversations were buzzing all around the room. While I (Jane Wohl) can only report the conversations from my table, I would guess that the questions led to equally important conversations at all the tables. Despite differences in years, we realized how similar we all are. We all suffer from insecurities, from body images that do not conform to cultural norms, to insecurity about our futures. We learned what it feels like to be in a body condemned by white supremacy and what it feels like to be a weight considered unacceptable. We all could talk about what has led us to Union and where we might be going after we leave. 

I cherished the chance to talk with classmates, (younger and older) whom I see in class or in passing, but with whom I rarely have a long conversation.  I applaud my fellow Wayward Wisdom caucus members who did so much work to make this happen. I hope this occasion becomes a yearly event. It was a great evening for everyone, and brought all of us closer as people and as members of the Union community. Special thanks must go to all the Wayward Wisdom Caucus members who worked to organize the event. Still, Blanche Colson, a first-year Master of Arts in Buddhist Studies student, and Linda Aristondo need particular thanks. The event would not have been possible without Blanche’s organizing skills and Linda’s work on the grant application. Blanche, completing her first year in the MDiv program, shares, “To be honest, I would not have made it through my first year without the love and support of my youthful Union friends. They assured me, “We got you, Blanche,” and they meant every word of it!  The Generations over Dinner was an appreciation for them.” Linda, a graduating Master of Divinity in Anglican Studies student, states, “We proposed a Generations Over Dinner event to drive meaningful conversations that shift perspectives on aging and co-generation. The April 21st dinner perfectly reflected Wayward Wisdom’s intentionality.”

Following a few weeks after the main Dinner, WWC celebrated its very first-ever Commissioning, a Union graduation tradition. The event was hosted in the handsome Bonhoeffer Room at Hastings Hall. Wayward Wisdom graduates recognized at the commissioning were Linda Aristondo (M.Div.), Shelly Burtt (M.Div.), Marc Falcone (M.A.R.), Paige Hartsell (M.D.S.W.), Christopher Leong (M.Div.). and Marcy Trudio (M.Div.). 

Union’s Vice President of Academic Affairs & Dean Su Yon Pak presided as Commissioner,  presenting each Wayward Wisdom graduate with an honor cord in the caucus’ signature colors of purple and silver, to be worn with the graduate gowns at the Commencement ceremony. The gathered family, friends, and fellow students joined Dean Pak in the charge for each graduate to “go forward” in their ministry and mission.

The charge to “go forward” reminds us that, even as our fellow Wayward Wisdom members embark on their second or third careers, at any age, we still have much to contribute to the work of reimagining justice.