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Sixty years strong!Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2011, at 3:32 PM
As university chaplain at DePauw University I'm occasionally asked to do the unexpected. Such was where I found myself on Saturday evening, June 11.
Alumni Weekend occurs where thousands of people return to Greencastle to meet up with college friends of years gone by. Some have stayed in contact with each other but many have not. Usually the alumni reunions are in years of five. That Saturday evening there were banquets for the Class of 2006, 2001, and so forth.
I was invited to attend the banquet for the Class of 1951. This was the first time that an event was held for a class on their 60th anniversary of graduation.
After a long day many from their class had already left for home; yet over 60 stayed for the banquet that evening. I enjoyed eating the meal at a table with all widows and one couple, he from that year's graduation class and she from the year afterwards. Conversation turned to what each had done professionally in life. They had wonderful stories that included being educators, social workers, psychotherapists and even a geologist! Each told stories of their families, their children and grandchildren, and of where they now lived.
I looked around the room and marveled at these very active, very engaging 82-year-old people. Some were even older! At each table they were laughing, enjoying their meal but enjoying each other's stories even more. This was more than just catching up with each other. This was a celebration of what they had accomplished with their lives so far!
Instead of a speech or a program, the moderator asked each to stand and share a moment or two. Several were so memorable that I hope to never forget their words. One man stood and explained how he had made it big in the printing industry. An "entrepreneur" he called himself, and then he described how he had developed several print types that were used in newspapers, magazines, and books all over the world. "I sold out at a good time," he declared, "because now every computer has these on their software!" He enjoyed a good belly laugh that encouraged all of us to join in at the irony of what had become of his life's work.
I was greatly impressed at the number of women who were pioneers in their field. Several had become ordained ministers, one being one of the first to be ordained in a particular Presbyterian denomination. One woman told of all her children and grandchildren only to have her husband stand and describe how his "humble wife" had been on the Board of Directors of several multi-national organizations. Others were the "first" at a variety of professions: school superintendents, political leaders in their communities, presidents of several not-for-profits.
One man described his years as a state assemblyman and then judge on all the divorce cases in his county. He told of having several miniature dogs over the years and how he would make combating attorneys talk to the dog in his robe if they couldn't be civil to each other. Implanted in my mind is the image of this creative judge who must have looked like something off of a television court comedy! And yet you could see the pride he took in his successes.
They spent time talking about the nearly 300 from their class that are no longer with us. They described men coming back from World War II, older students now able to study because of the GI Bill that provided money for education. This class of graduates had become wise for their years because of the influences and the stories of these vets. The people I heard that night talked of being inspired by their military classmates who were dedicated to making the world better. It suddenly dawned on me why this particular class of graduates had done SO MUCH with their lives. They hadn't forgotten their lessons both from the classroom and from each other. They hadn't forgotten.
When the last was finished I was so surprised that two hours had passed of their life sharing. After singing the DePauw song by memory they were departing from each other, many making promises to return again in five years for their next class reunion. Each was still involved in a career or a job of some type; even the judge was now a groomer at a local veterinary office. Each was still active and still making a difference. "See you in five years, Chaplain!" one alumnus exclaimed. I left believing that he will be back and organize another class banquet!
Walking away I came to realize that it's our purpose that gives us reason to live and enjoy life. No matter what we may be doing and no matter our age, if we believe we still have a purpose we'll make life exciting and worthwhile.
Especially this year I needed to hear that message and re-examine my own sense of purpose. Especially this year ...
How about you? What will you share at your 60th reunion, be it from high school or college? What will you proudly declare as your life's accomplishments? Who influenced you? Who inspired you? What purpose are you fulfilling?
Maybe we shouldn't wait until our 60th to proclaim these things about ourselves and each other. Maybe we should do so today!
P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.