Editor's Note: Under the Plain Brown Wrapper

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Winter 2017


In the last issue of Minnesota Alumni we invited readers to help write this issue on aging. The invitation: Send us your reflections, written from the heart, on what aging means to you, in 300 words or less. I had hoped to receive 10 to 12 well-written submissions, enough to constitute a solid four-page section.

Well. As your reflections came rolling in over several weeks’ time, this editor learned a thing or two about her readers. You’re not shy. You know what it means to write from the heart. And, like all good Minnesotans or people who have lived in Minnesota, you respond obligingly to an invitation. By the time the October 14 deadline arrived, we had received about 60 thoughtful, sometimes poignant, and always genuine little essays from readers in their 20s all the way up to age 92—at least one from every decade in that span.

At first, we were happily surprised to receive so many responses. But on reflection, it makes sense that we did. When we ask ourselves what it means to age, we are also asking, “what is the meaning of life?” Based on the responses we received, it’s a question you’ve given a lot of thought to.

The first submission to arrive came in a handwritten envelope from 85-year-old Agnes Griffiths of Mankato, whose photo graces our cover. When I called Ag to tell her I would be pleased to publish her piece, she said, unexpectedly, “Really? Why?” Because, I said, it’s well done and it speaks to your life experience from the heart, which is exactly what we wanted. “Oh!” she said. “I’ve never written anything before!” I loved hearing that this magazine was a vehicle for her to grow and stretch, because that’s something we aim to do in all of our programming and services to alumni.

What strikes me about so many of your reflections is their honest, unvarnished character. It’s the quality that transforms a piece of personal writing into something universal. University of Minnesota First Lady Karen Kaler asks in her reflection, “What, then, to make of the tricks the aging body plays in trying to convince us that age is meaningful?” It’s a good question. I can tell you that by the time we were ready to send this issue off to the printer, I had come to the conclusion that the word “aging” is simply the plain brown wrapper on a gift box that contains the unique, sparkling, and precious heights, depths, and breadths of each person’s life. Taken together, they form the story of our shared life together on this very fragile planet.

This is a special issue of the magazine, and not because of anything we have done. The artistry is all yours, and we thank you for sharing it so generously with our worldwide community of alumni. It’s what community is all about.

Cynthia Scott (M.A. ’89) can be reached at scott325@umn.edu.

Our story After a Fashion [Fall 2016] neglected to mention that Patricia Columbus-Powers (B.M.E. ’06, M.S. ’11) was a recipient of the Sands Fellowship, which served as seed money for her business, Siobhan Powers.

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