By Scott Westerman
Today, I had the honor of presenting to an Interdisciplinary Forum on Aging Research. My topic was engaging alumni in the late afternoon of their Spartan Lives. Each of us had to keep it short: 5 minutes or less, which was just about perfect for my message. Here’s a video and the full text of my remarks.
As we enter the late afternoon of our lives, our thoughts increasingly turn to the legacy we hope to leave behind. Time seems to compress. Terms that used to apply to people on the periphery of our existence, words like cancer and death, strike closer and closer to home.
We start to take stock of the people, places, experiences and things that have been most important to us.
We focus on enduring friendships and may seek to reconnect with people from our past who may have drifted into our peripheral vision. What is truly important starts to clarify in our minds eye and we prioritize the time that remains accordingly.
It is in the midst of this ongoing process of being that we come to value our university experience, perhaps forging a deeper emotional connection to those things about our Spartan lives that, with the context of time, emerge as defining chapters of our personal narrative.
This is an important dimension of our world at the MSU Alumni Association. We’re always there, at traditional gatherings on football Saturdays, cross generational experiences like Grandparents University, unique overseas study tours targeted to this well seasoned demographic, and the ability to reconnect alumni with missing-in-action friends that even Facebook can’t find; these are a few of the ways we tend our flock, reinforcing the value a lifelong connection to Michigan State and to Spartans everywhere.
From the moment we arrived on campus, we were exposed to a set of values that define a Spartan’s Will: Exposure to new vistas of wisdom, a culture of community service and philanthropy that radiates outward from East Lansing to every corner of the world. And the high standards of personal accountability and performance that inevitably lead Spartans to the upper echelons of whatever enterprise with which they choose to align their personal brand.
With age comes a deeper respect for our past, acceptance of an uncertain future, and a heightened awareness of the importance of making the most of every present moment.
This drives an alumni engagement strategy that opens our doors wide to macro audiences, while continually focusing on micro segments, serving the unique interests and needs of small clusters of Spartans who are celebrating common milestones, struggling with similar challenges, and who are willing and able to share their knowledge with current and future students, doing what Spartans do best: taking stock of our abundance and passing it on.
Spartans naturally share some of the prosperity that Michigan State helped to make possible so that future generations might enjoy a Spartan life like ours. Just as we have encouraged Spartans to turn to their MSU family in time of need, we believe that paying it forward is an act that alumni will undertake willingly and generously when the time is right.
We see it every day, in the callused hands of the thousands of Spartans who participate in the Global Day of Service every Spring, in the words of accomplished graduates who return to the classroom to lecture about their adventures to the current generation of students, in the welcoming arms that are always extended to Spartans who find themselves transplanted to new jobs in new communities, and through the abundant conduit of financial investment that has become essential to offset the diminishing public support of higher education.
If we’ve done our job effectively, the Spartan spirit is one of the first things a young mind can perceive and a Spartan embrace will be part and parcel of every significant event from that moment on.
At the MSU Alumni Association, we believe that living the Spartan Life is a spiritual practice. And with the passage of time, our memories of the Spartan encounters we’ve had, the Spartan friendships we’ve enjoyed and the rich experiences that our MSU connections have made possible, emerge as some of the most meaningful and rewarding moments of our great adventure.
And the most enduring gift we can give to those who follow in our footsteps is to gather everything we’ve learned and everything we’ve earned, and pass it on.