Sunday, February 15, 2015

Going Places with Senior Sem

Last week, Sheila and I went back to our hometown in New York. It wasn't just a normal visit home, though--we actually crashed there after a long 5-hour drive so we could recharge the batteries and then wake up early the next morning and get on a train to New York City, where we did some filming for our senior seminar project.

As I've mentioned before, Sheila and I have partnered up to film a documentary about aging and ageism for our capstone. This is one of many things I love about MJD. The senior seminar allows us to investigate any topic of our choosing--literally anything--and produce our findings in either a book, website, or documentary format. Pretty much the only criteria is that we do something that hasn't been done before (or explore a past topic from a new angle), work with a partner if it's a documentary, and check in with regular homework assignments and presentations. Otherwise, anything goes.

Which is a huge undertaking, of course, and tons on tons of work. There's a lot at stake too--the project isn't just a grade, but something that can be put in our portfolio and on our resumes, and maybe even something that's published for people all around the world to see (as has happened with some in the past). I like the way we do our senior seminar in my major because honestly, I don't think I could deal with writing a 50-page paper all semester. Sheila and I did write 52 pages for our proposal, but we took just a few weeks to do it and used it as a way to organize our ideas and research. While it was an important part of the project, it wasn't the only part, so there wasn't as much riding on it as there is for people who do something like that for their entire capstone. Besides, our capstone takes us places other than the library!

So last Friday we went to NYC and interviewed Ashton Applewhite, a prominent anti-ageism activist and author, and I swear if I hadn't been on a schedule I might still be there because she was so interesting to talk to. She had so many important things to say and her passion really came through on film. I think her voice is going to add a much-needed angle to our film, as she really helped tie together loose ends on a lot of different themes. Sheila is an angel and already made some rough cuts of the interview, which can be found here.

We also visited the offices of, a non-profit that seeks to get young people actively volunteering in their communities. Whey them for a film on aging and old people, then? One of their campaigns, called Grandparents Gone Wired (GGW), pairs up a teenage mentor with an older mentee who wants to use a new technology, whether it's Skype to keep in touch with faraway family and friends or an iPad so they can download cool apps or anything in between. We spoke with some of the campaign organizers, and they said it's really helped improve daily life for the older people participating as well as created come great multi-generational friendships--something that Ashton, as well as Sheila and I, really advocate for and something that we're hoping to show others with our documentary, so they're inspired to do it too.

We had a great day in the city, and we took the train back home to Poughkeepsie to rest up. Then, the next morning, we left for Woodstock for one last NY-based interview.

I came into contact with Alix Dobkin through a really interesting chain of events, and I'm so glad I found her and she was willing to do an interview with us. An esteemed folk singer, Dobkin was an integral part of the women's liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. An activist for most of her life, I found her by looking through names on a roster at the Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) website. They're a group that works to combat "all the -isms," as Alix put it, and they've done a lot to raise consciousness about homophobia and particularly how it affects aging lesbian women. I'm lucky I've been taught to always do a Google search of the person I'm interviewing before I meet them. As I read about Alix's life and listened to her music that morning before heading out, I realized I had scored the interview of the century. It was incredible to hear some of her stories and she even performed a few songs for us! She also gave us each a copy of her memoir. I can't wait to read it!

So New York was a great success, and when Sheila and I returned to Vermont we presented our recent work to our classmates. They loved watching some of the footage and we got great feedback about where to go from here. On Friday we went to the Champlain Senior Center, which I've spent a lot of time at already both this and last semester, to film part of a Valentine's Day celebration. It was great to see so many familiar faces and a ton of new ones as well.

Coming up is another batch of interview subjects, and we have quite the array of people who have shown interest already. Right now we're working on confirming plans with a few women from the Burlington branch of OLOC, a local group similar to DoSomething's GGW campaign, and the Alzheimer's Association. We have a few exciting events coming up, too. Since we're taking a very holistic approach toward looking at every facet of aging and ageism, we have a lot of ground to cover. The more interviews to help with that, the better!

As you can see, we definitely have a lot going on to keep us busy. Our film is tentatively titled The Art of Aging, and if you want to keep up with our progress you can follow us on social media:


We also have a (VERY rough) website, where we'll be posting more soon, here.

Who knows where the rest of the semester will take us? Stay tuned!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snow Days at Saint Mike's

The view from my front door on this snowy day.

As I often tell my tours, the "snow day" is a rare occurrence at Saint Michael's College. Since we are a fully residential college, classes are never formally cancelled for the school. Most students have a less-than 5-minute walk from their domiciles to their classrooms, so it's pretty understandable.

("Come on, this is VERMONT. We don't stop for a few snowflakes!" says every native Vermonter, as they stand in 3 feet of snow bundled in their L.L. Bean coats wearing lumberjack hats and shoveling out their Subarus. Put on your big girl boots and toughen up, kid. We're in for a long winter--groundhog said so.)

However, just because it's still easy for the students to show up doesn't mean it's always this way for professors, so sometimes classes are cancelled on an individual or class-by-class basis. Every morning in the winter, students all over campus wake up in the morning and rush to their windows. If there's so much as a single flake in the air, they rush to their laptops with excitement equivalent to a small child's as they check their emails.

Now, I've heard plenty of stories. Profs SKIING to class in the morning to stay on top of their syllabus, doing everything they can to bring knowledge to their students (they're dedicated, and they are Vermonters, after all). In fact, many of them also live very close to campus and don't have long walks themselves. But, every now and then, a snowstorm can be too much for even the most well-weathered SMC professor.

So it is with great pleasure that I opened my laptop this morning, still wrapped in my cozy blanket and wearing my fuzzy sleep socks, to find that my prof for my only class today didn't want to risk it. He advised that we use the spare time to work on our projects and wished us a happy day.

Rather than venturing out in the cold, I decided to take him up on that opportunity and work from home on some things that needed to be done as well as more planning for my senior seminar project. I write to you from the warm comforts of my couch, wearing those same fuzzy sleep socks, sipping on some delicious French Vanilla hot chocolate.

Happy Snow Day to all! Stay warm everyone!