When you live in a college town it’s easy to begin to nurture a certain amount of negativity toward people of college age. Right now I believe we’re referring to them as Millennials. We have to share our roads, our restaurants and our breathing space with a group of people who are always reminding us that we are aging and who hardly ever move over on the sidewalk to let us pass by without having to step out into the street where one of them will run us over with their car that is clearly more expensive than the one we drive. Where was I? Oh, yes, harboring that negativity.
I recently hosted a class of undergraduate art students from Florida State University at my home studio for a little tour and chat about the business of art, social media and building community. I served hot cider out of Take Out Project mugs because…well, what else says community like scalding hot cider on a sweltering October evening in Florida? (You can take the girl out of the Midwest…) They asked a lot of great questions and we stayed outside until it got dark and the mosquitos started devouring us. They were lovely. (The students, not the mosquitos.)
What’s even lovelier is reading the thank you letters that their professor, Holly Hanessian asked them to write. As I sat with my hot tea this morning I read over the letters which were all on personalized letterhead with their artwork (smart) and I noticed a few things that were repeated with each letter. They mentioned that they appreciated my transparency and my encouragement of making connections and building community, whether done through social media or in person.
What I think we are not recognizing in these young people is that they really want to be connected to a community, to feel a part of something bigger. They just need to be taught how this can be done. I grew up in a small town of about 4500 people. I was connected whether I wanted to be or not. I think that this feeling of connection is important in shaping people and teaching them how to be respectful and responsible human beings.
When I was an adjunct instructor at a large university my first question at the beginning of each class wasn’t about the project the students were working on. It was usually, “How is everyone feeling today?” “It’s the middle of the semester, are you getting stressed, how’s your workload, are you feeling overwhelmed?” You would think that this would send the students into an hour of complaining and asking for extensions but it usually just brought on a couple of responses, a couple of sighs of relief that someone had actually asked and then we moved on with the assigned work. No one ever told me their personal problems because I had already set up some boundaries that included we are not friends, we are teacher and student. Even with these boundaries, people just want to know that someone cares and that someone acknowledges them. This is what connection is all about. This is also why teaching at the large university level wasn’t a good fit for me.
So what a fantastic class that Holly is teaching this semester where her students are able to get off of that big campus and out into the community to learn from working artists of all ages, experiences and success levels. They are being given an opportunity to forge relationships with other artists with the option to stay connected at the very least through social media. I truly believe that if you form a connection with another person, especially a young person, you also set up expectations for that person to live up to. This is how we teach a new generation of people. But first we must make eye contact, ask them to give us half of the sidewalk and then hope that they might ask us how we are feeling today.
Today, I’m feeling the love from a bunch of responsible, hard working, community oriented art student Millennials! Thanks Holly, Heather, Cristie, Andrea, Tessa, Danielle, Demi and Alex!