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Graham Symposium Celebrates School’s Spirited Focus on Lifelong Learning

More than a hundred Graham students, instructors, and staff gather on campus for a day of learning, community-building, and celebration.

Katia Mitova speaking at the Symposium

At a gathering designed to celebrate “excellence in lifelong learning,” Katia Mitova instead questioned it – a move perfectly fitting for an instructor at the University of Chicago.

Standing before Graham students, instructors, and staff at the 2022 Graham Symposium on October 16, Mitova, an instructor in the Graham School’s Basic Program since 1998, noted how excellence was neither definable nor measurable and, in fact, might well be many things rather than one. Even the concept of lifelong learning, she noted, warranted debate.

Though Mitova admitted the challenges of assigning a clear definition to the phrase, she argued that the University of Chicago provided rich examples of remarkable learners. She pointed out her late professor David Grene and Graham School instructor George Anastaplo – both deep thinkers and inquisitive souls who crossed disciplinary boundaries and urged generations of students to do the same. Mitova also singled out longtime Graham student Nancy Brandt, who inspired a group of classmates to learn together for 12 years and to continue after her death in 2019.

“Even though I can’t define ‘excellence in lifelong learning,’ remembering these three extraordinary people, each of whom lived to be almost 90, makes me say, with some confidence, I know ‘excellence in lifelong learning’ when I see it,” Mitova said.

Celebrating learning and community

At the Graham School’s largest in-person gathering since the pandemic, Mitova’s opening remarks served an earnest reminder of the knowledge-seeking spirit hovering over all Graham activities and its ever-expanding community of learners.

“We were thrilled to bring so many members of the Graham community together for meaningful learning, recognition of our extraordinary instructors, and reflection on our shared history,” Graham School Dean Seth Green said. “It was energizing to be together, face to face, and celebrate what makes the Graham community so special and distinctive.”

At the day-long event, participants attended one of two mini-courses, or “learning adventures,” embracing Graham’s liberal arts focus.

The American Century in Hyde Park took learners on a walking tour of neighborhood venues that propelled the United States’ rise as a global superpower, specifically covering topics such as the 1893 World’s Fair and the birth of the nuclear age. In the second mini-course, Reading Sophocles’ Antigone with Performance in Mind, Graham instructors Kendall Sharp and Zoë Eisenman led a discussion with Charles Newell, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning University of Chicago Court Theatre, about producing Antigone. The trio also explored the play’s central ideas, such as fate, free will, divine justice, and obedience. “The symposium revived the fervor of classroom discussions and rekindled the warmth of friendships developed over many years of shared interests,” Mitova said.

The symposium revived the fervor of classroom discussions and rekindled the warmth of friendships developed over many years of shared interests.

Katia Mitova, Basic Program Instructor

Honoring the gifts of a Graham education

The 2022 Graham Symposium also included the presentation of two Lifelong Learning Awards. Longtime Writer’s Studio instructor Sarah Terez Rosenblum received the Innovation in Teaching Award, while Mitova earned the Dean’s Service Award in recognition of her consistent efforts to uplift and enliven the Graham community.

“None of us, students or instructors, pursues lifelong learning for an award, but belonging to the Graham community of learners is the reward that stimulates our desire to go deeper and to expand our interests,” Mitova said.

And before an event-closing keynote by John Boyer, the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of History, on the history of the University of Chicago, Graham Circle ambassador Larry Shiff offered reflections on the enriching experience he has enjoyed as a Graham student over the last 24 years. Citing the humanizing effect of the humanities, exploration of the Western and Eastern canon, and articulate discourse as elements of particular value, Shiff expressed hope that Graham’s “workout for the mind” would remain lively and available well into the future.

“We owe a great deal to those future generations of students and faculty because of the extraordinary educational experience we have all enjoyed here,” said Shiff, who encouraged attendees to generously support the vitality, growth, and accessibility of Graham.

Daniel P. Smith

Freelance Writer

Daniel P. Smith is a freelance writer at the Graham School.

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