The following op-ed about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) is part of a series during Inclusive Excellence Awareness Month, highlighting the voices around campus that make this university special. Sandy Emerson is a member of OLLI at the University of Kentucky.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 27, 2023) — I heard about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UK before I retired in 2011, and it was one of the first calls I made after retirement. It seemed they were eager to engage with new people, so I acquired a position on the curriculum committee. Teaching had been my career, and the career of the other women in my family of origin, so it was a good fit.
I discovered a whole new world of people my age, 50 and older, still interested in learning. These were people who enthusiastically got up on class days, got dressed and left the house to go to a class on history, technology, line dancing, science, art, foreign languages, mindfulness, fitness, yoga, all for the sake of learning, no tests, no papers, just new ideas and information. These were people who sang in the OLLI chorus and who took ukelele and dulcimer classes. Through attending these classes and activities, I encountered people who agreed with my life philosophy, and those who didn’t. It was and remains, stimulating and enriching.
I eventually became the curriculum committee chair and then chair of the OLLI Advisory Board, the peter principle at work. I now facilitate a writers’ group, which is in its 10th year. It has become one of the joys of my life. I enjoy the camaraderie of gathering with others, hearing their stories and laughing and sometimes grieving with them.
I am enriched by the process of learning, and stretching my imagination, though classes, through discussion with others, and through the weekly presentations of OLLI’s Donovan Forum program. I feel a sense of community through the social gatherings and travel experiences both on the road and locally, before COVID, and now after, and joined the first trip South on the Hope and History Tour of places in Alabama where the Civil Rights Movement was born. It was honestly, life altering.
Even during the pandemic shutdown, OLLI remained upright and relevant and personal for all of us, through Zoom and other efforts to keep us intellectually stimulated and together as a cohesive group. We all learned the intricacies of how to Zoom and saw and communicated with each other through our one-inch Zoom squares. We kept on learning, and being enriched through the experience. The OLLI program became a beacon of hope for all of us.
I have attended several conferences of lifelong learners, both regional and national. The saying goes that if you’ve seen one OLLI you’ve seen one OLLI, but their stories are all similar. Their joys are our joys. Their excitement is our excitement. Their dedication to lifelong learning is our dedication. To the person, the lives of OLLI members, age 50 and above, experience the engagement of our minds, the elevation of our spirits and the enrichment of our lives through lifelong learning, in ways even yet to be discovered.
As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.
In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.