It started with a question: What is something you’ve learned as you’ve aged that a younger version of yourself would never have anticipated?
The question was posed as part of a pilot “Wisdom Circle” exercise hosted by the Career Networking Committee of the Alumnae/i Association of Vassar College (AAVC).
Informed by the practice of Indigenous peoples, Wisdom Circles are small-group experiences in which effort is made to build trust and create a safe space. The goal is to encourage participants to reflect and share deeply.
Maybelle Bennett ’70, who led the exercise, describes Wisdom Circles as experiences in which life insights are exchanged: “Everyone comes to the table with a unique and irreplaceable life history. And there is something rich about everything that is shared.”
Bennett, pictured, was first introduced to the Wisdom Circle practice as part of a milestone in her own life—during a celebration of her 70th birthday. Her daughter, along with her classmate and close friend Jettie Burnett ’70, surprised her by arranging a facilitated conversation in her honor. “But the gift that they arranged was the sharing of life experiences of the women around the table,” she recalls. “And of course, they put me in the hot seat, asking, ‘What have you learned in 70 years, and what will you attempt to do with the next 70 years?’”
Bennett, who recently joined the AAVC Board of Directors—and the Career Networking Committee—says the response of her fellow committee members to her Wisdom Circle exercise was overwhelmingly positive. “We were happy to get to know folks beyond the agenda-driven program,” she says. “Some of that happens when we go to various campus activities or when we sit next to each other at lunch and dinner, but this was a concentrated opportunity to open up in ways that you wouldn’t at the dinner table or at a meeting itself.”
Committee members immediately saw the application of Wisdom Circles to forums in which alums might share more intimate thoughts about their lives in addition to their career trajectories. Under the leadership of Natalie Nixon ’91, the Career Networking Committee is thinking more about how Vassar might support alums at every age and stage.
“Vassar has evolved in such a way that it is now doing far more than it had been doing with respect to career preparation,” Bennett says. “With the Center for Career Education, Sophomore Career Connections, and other initiatives, the College has become more efficient and effective in helping our students plug into careers and think about their professional futures. We thought it might be time for us to think about other ways in which we can supplement those efforts.”
Careers—as important as they are—happen in a larger context,” Bennett explains. “We pursue careers as we start families, as we become mothers and fathers, as we are setting up households, buying homes, creating relationships, getting rid of relationships, going through health challenges, caring for aging parents, and so on. So, career networking, if seen in the larger whole-life context, could be more broadly addressed.”
The Communications Advisory Committee of AAVC, chaired by Justin Hergianto ’04, also seized upon the Wisdom Circle concept—with a twist that doesn’t involve in-person gatherings. “There are a wealth of perspectives waiting to be tapped in the vast and diverse Vassar community, regardless of class year,” he says. “Why not extend this concept by soliciting alums’ insights on a variety of topics—whether we’re talking about current events, age-and-stage concerns, or a theme presented in the magazine?”
Thanks to the encouragement of these AAVC committees, readers will soon find various questions seeded in the magazine and on social media—look for #VCWisdom. We hope you will find sharing your perspectives and learning about those of your fellow alums engaging and helpful.
How would you have answered this question?
What is something you’ve learned as you’ve aged that a younger version of yourself would never have anticipated?
We want to hear from you: go.vassar.edu/VCWisdom #VCWisdom on social