Students Connect with Community Members on How to Define a Good Life

How do you define a good life?

When a high school student asks you that question, you take pause.

On November 14, students in Jennifer Olson and Emily Willem’s Wayfinding class at Hazen Union got a chance to connect with over fifteen community members, asking that question and many more, in an exercise designed to allow students to practice clear and effective communication, including active listening. The bonus for students? Gathering nuggets of wisdom from adults who have been building their lives, one decision, one painful choice, one joyful celebration, and one fork in the road at a time, year after year.

For about an hour, students rotated stations “speed-dating” style, spending about five minutes with each guest. Opening the conversations were questions like “When is a time in your life you have felt most passionate and alive?”, “Have you ever had to get outside your comfort zone?” and “What is something that altered the course of your life?”. There were tough questions that peeled back the layers. Questions that required introspection and vulnerability. Questions that created an authentic human connection. It was a powerful hour for both students and guests.

Reflecting on the experience, student Aidan Sloan commented, "One of the guests I interviewed said that no matter how set your plan is, there are always going to be bumps in your road. I feel like I really needed to hear that out loud. Hearing that everybody’s path is going to change no matter what you do...that was nice."

Hazen community partner Kyle Chase had this takeaway, “For me, it was such a wonderful opportunity to connect with a group of inquisitive young adults and share perspective from my life in hopes of broadening their ideas for their future.”

Annie Houston, Grants Manager for OSSU said, “This was great to be a part of, and I loved seeing the shift in body language of the students. You could tell those who were uncomfortable or nervous at first but settled and relaxed as the conversation got going and their anxiety dissipated. ...we had a great back and forth with each of us answering the questions and found we had some similar experiences and perspectives that shaped our values. For me, that was an especially rewarding part of the experience.”

Reeve Basom with the Center for an Agricultural Economy stated, “This format for intergenerational conversation was clearly a rich learning experience for everyone involved. I felt barriers dissolving, perspectives expanding, curiosity and compassion growing, and a sense of possibility and community taking root in a way that gave me so much hope.”

As our youth seek the courage to speak their truth, they need adults in their lives willing to dig deep, practice vulnerability, and speak their own truth. In our little corner of Vermont, our community is doing just that. It’s a pretty sweet start to defining “a good life”. And a powerful way to help others build their own good life, extending far beyond the classroom.