I spent Saturday, Oct., 26, 2013, at the Wheaton Alumnae/i Leadership Conference, soaking in the gorgeous foliage (Wheaton is smart to have us return to campus in October rather than February), and connecting with new and old friends. I’d forgotten how good it feels to get together based on this one shared facet of our life experiences.
One of my favorite moments was in a social media workshop (I’m the social media chair for my class), where Molly Galler from the Class of 2006 did a great job explaining Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and WordPress to a group of older alums. The take-homes for me:
First, how Wheaton is a place I find mentors, even now. Each time I return, I’m reminded by other alums how part of being a Wheaton grad is having an ability to think, grow and expand your horizons. Not that graduates of other schools don’t have this, too—it’s just such a focus at Wheaton that after four years of immersion, it’s sort of in you in a way most of us don’t shake, even after graduation.
Returning to campus stirs that back up in a way that’s really helpful. How often do you get to go to a place where people tell you both that you’re doing great where you are and that you can accomplish something bigger or new or other if you want to? That’s a powerful combination.
I love how our older alums resist the temptation of, “Oh, that’s for the younger folks. …” They’re willing to be beginners, ask questions, and try things. I suspect this is the work-around for midlife crises: staying engaged and interested, being willing to be the only one in the room who admits you don’t get it yet, but that you’re going to. I’m grateful for this annual reminder that as life keeps getting bigger, I can grow with it.
The second thing that made my day was this one alum— I think she’s in the Class of 1977—describing how a couple of hours earlier, she’d posted her first picture to her new Facebook page, and had already seen two or three friends respond online. “It’s just a hoot!” she said.
At first I just giggled the way you sometimes do when someone uses an expression that’s no longer common. But then later that afternoon I thought about my own first experience years ago, figuring out how to get a picture to appear on my Facebook page, picking a funny caption, and then watching over the course of that day as friends from all over the country responded. It was a hoot!
Once in a while (read: way more often), I need to step back from all these things that are now “normal” parts of our lives and marvel at them for a moment. It’s incredible, what we’ve learned and adapted to. And as much as naysayers love to prattle on about how awful screen time is and how online friendships can’t replace connecting in real life over coffee, I’m feeling the urge to celebrate what networks like Facebook and Twitter (not to mention my new obsession, Happier) make possible.
Thanks to those, I’m connected with you all, and I enjoy more support, connection, camaraderie and friendship than any other time in my life. The likelihood that I’ll remember anyone’s birthday has gone up 100 percent (I’ve never been great with dates), and, over the course of a typical day, I get to interact and catch up with great people, and build relationships across a far wider slice of life than I could pull off via connecting in real life over coffee, no matter how many miles I traveled (or how much caffeine I could hold).
As a memoir writer, I love how we’re all building our stories online, one post at a time. It’s a hoot, and I’m grateful for the reminder.
Trish Clark Ryan ’91, who majored in political science, has a law degree from Villanova University School of Law, and is an author and blogger. Her website is at trishryanauthor.com.
Illustration by David Laferriere