On "New Roads"
By Meagan Church
The Saint Mary’s College experience goes far beyond spending four years obtaining a degree. It is a lifelong relationship with a college devoted to educating women throughout their entire lives. To foster that relationship, Saint Mary’s and the alumnae association board of directors worked together to offer an event targeted at alumnae, 50 and older. The weekend conference, “New Road, No Rules,” took place July 13–15. It brought alumnae back to campus to discuss the “bonus years” of life through panel discussions and expert sessions on various topics.
The weekend focused on Abigail Trafford’s book My Time: Making the Most of the Bonus Years After 50. Trafford attended the conference as the keynote speaker. She spoke on the positive side of living longer, and the opportunities and responsibilities it presents. Trafford said she enjoyed being a part of the conference: "I thought the conference was sensational. There was great age range and coming together of women in different generations. It just created this great spirit in the room. I thought it was really moving. The connection and excitement among people were really terrific. The subject matter of finding solutions to longevity since we have added this new stage onto our lives was on the top of everyone’s minds, but they didn’t realize it. It gave them a way to talk about it and break it up into issues of jobs, purposes, finances, economics, relationships, and more. It was really meaningful."
Along with Trafford, seminars were presented by alumnae who shared their expertise in their given fields or experiences in transitioning into the golden years. “We had doctors, financial experts, and more, proving the education you get at Saint Mary’s allows you to go and do some great things,” said Kara O’Leary ’89, president of the alumnae association board.
Attendees chose from different seminar offerings, including health and wellness, finances, “encore” careers, finding meaningful activity, nurturing the inner self, and more. “There were women who shared their stories, and while some were retired, none were sitting on their rockers doing nothing,” said Elizabeth Lacy ’66, committee chair, member of the alumnae association board, and Justice Emeritus of the Supreme Court of Virginia. “This was not a showcase of celebrity flashes of new things to do. Instead it was real people who have made transition, and they shared how they have done it.”
“New Road, No Rules”—the first event designed specifically for this age group—welcomed just under 50 participants. “We were pleased with the response we received and content that the alumnae provided,” said O’Leary. “We initially wanted a larger crowd, but it wouldn’t have been as intimate a group.”
The women roomed in Opus Hall, allowing them to continue the dialogue after the presentations were over. The attendees and faculty used that after-hours time to talk further about what it means to be living the bonus years. Lacy said, “It was kind of magical. It was like being back on campus with women who were interesting and interested. Everyone contributed in the exchange of information and observation of life experiences. That made you feel better about where you were and where you’re going. It all stemmed from the important grounding that we all received as part of the Saint Mary’s experience.”
Reactions to the event were quite favorable, according to the surveys attendees filled out before leaving. Overall, the comments noted that the participants enjoyed the presentations, staying in Opus Hall, and making new friends. “Some hadn’t been back in years and they really enjoyed it,” O’Leary said. “They said if we do it again, they would come back.”
Lacy explained that the College, faculty, and alumnae association board all worked together to make the event possible. “It was a very collaborative effort and one which hopefully we will continue.” The board plans to offer similar events, developing seminars for various age groups and life circumstances. Lacy went on to say, “The board hopes to continue that lifelong relationship between Saint Mary’s and its graduates, and to offer the kinds of supportive environments we had when we were in school that can perhaps touch us at a different time in our lives.” They are working on developing new avenues to further nurture the relationship that begin freshman year, but last well into the golden years … and beyond.