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Graham School Celebrates its Newest Basic Program Alumni 

Navigating unique circumstances, the Class of 2023 found joy in learning and leaves a lasting legacy with its class gift.

Dean Seth Green awards Basic Program certificate to student

Over a dozen academic quarters, they traveled the world with Odysseus and pondered the existence of God with Descartes.

They explored the depths of the underworld with Dante, debated economic theories with Marx, and wrestled over morality with Aristotle.

They examined the meaning of life and what it means to be present, alive, and a contributing member of society, all while enduring the upheaval of a global health pandemic and a sharp, sudden turn to online learning.

It was an ambitious adventure, but 39 individuals enrolled in the University of Chicago Graham School’s Basic Program of Liberal Education made it. On June 4, Graham leadership awarded certificates and honored its most recent Basic Program graduates at a festive celebration hosted on the UChicago’s Hyde Park campus.

“These are all adult learners who embarked on this journey because they wanted to and because they believe that a close reading of classic texts and thoughtful discussions about these works is a worthwhile way to spend one’s time, expand one’s mind, and enrich one’s soul,” said Kendall Sharp, the Cyril O. Houle Chair of the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults.

Embracing the liberal arts

After retiring from a long career in the business world, Laura Sunderlin sought “intellectual stimulation.” Her four-year run in the Basic Program delivered just that.

“The entire experience forced me to think deeply about ongoing challenges of the human experience, issues that have plagued people for thousands of years,” Sunderlin said. “There was great freedom to discuss ideas and thoughts were welcomed and challenged as they should be.”

Fellow graduate April Ljung said her four-year journey through the Basic Program ignited deep personal reflection. While some of history’s foremost thinkers offered earnest, layered thoughts on the human condition and the world we live in, Ljung’s peers provided a “never-ending source of big ideas” that energized her learning and sense of discovery.

“The Basic Program is a mighty endeavor with a humble name,” Ljung said.

Mark Yim first began taking Basic Program courses in the mid-1990s after completing his MBA at UChicago’s Booth School of Business. Though Yim’s career forced him to leave Chicago and pause his studies, he re-enrolled in the Basic Program upon learning of its online offerings – and remains grateful he did so.

“I was missing the liberal arts, and the Basic Program reintroduced me to reading, thinking, and discovering for its own sake, which proved to be incredibly rewarding,” Yim said.

A special experience amid trying times

The Basic Program’s Class of 2023 endured unique circumstances given the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Class of 2023 students began their Basic Program journey in 2019, months before Covid-19 rattled the world and upended the familiar cadence of daily life.

Amid the pandemic-era upheaval, Jeffrey Dougherty found refuge from uncertainty in his Basic Program courses. Through close readings and rich discussions of texts cutting across literature, philosophy, politics, and social thought, Dougherty learned how to better address and resolve conflict and make sense of the world around him.

“There’s nothing better than to read with a group of people and share in rational discourse about great ideas, and it’s even better to do it with an instructor as your guide in the conversation,” Dougherty said.

While the Basic Program is, of course, designed to charge students’ intellectual lives and expand their knowledge base, it also aims to support students’ social, professional, spiritual, and emotional growth. Graduate Beverlee Ann Anderson credited her experience in the Basic Program for enhancing her personal happiness.

“There has been joy in sharing the learning journey with such interesting and delightful people, joy in being exposed to new worlds of knowledge and wisdom, [and] joy and excitement in finding new ideas that turn out to have relevance and meaning to my everyday life,” Anderson said.

Leaving a legacy

Before completing their Basic Program studies, the Class of 2023 made plans to leave its mark on the institution. Following the lead of last year’s Basic Program graduates, the Class of 2023 established a class gift to strengthen the program. Fueled by the contributions of more than half of the Basic Program’s 2023 graduates, the class gift surged well past the initial $15,000 target.

“This was a way of giving back and ensuring the Basic Program continues to thrive and even expand its offerings,” Class of 2023 graduate Doris Konicki said.

Bonnie Blevins, who spearheaded the class gift effort alongside Konicki, said the class gift is intended to fund initiatives such as First Friday lectures, a Basic Program scholarship, instructor development of new courses, and program enrichment.

“We hope our class gift allows Graham to grow its reach and bring others into this lively community of learning,” Blevins said.

Daniel P. Smith

Freelance Writer

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

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