“Are there any feelings better than happiness?”
This was one of the pivotal questions raised at the “Wisdom Sharing Tea,” where Menlo grandparents offered guidance to seniors from Margaret Ramsey’s Senior English class, On Being. “The course is all about trying to figure out how we want to live and how to articulate those values to ourselves and others,” says Ms. Ramsey. As the students read, write, listen, learn, and engage in class discussions to hone in on their own life philosophies, it’s important for them to connect with those who have been on the road a little bit longer. “What better resource than our awesome Menlo grandparent community?” asked Ms. Ramsey.
Students generated a list of possible questions to ask their elders, exploring themes of joy, growth, loss, grief, despair, belonging, curiosity, connection, solitude, love, and meaning. Ms. Ramsey considers this question bank “a fascinating snapshot of what really matters to students, once all the business of grades and achievement are stripped away.” Head of School Than Healy agrees, adding, “I love these glimpses into the minds and hearts of our students.”
The Wisdom Sharing Tea event was held in the light-filled lobby of Spieker Center for the Arts. Small groups of students and grandparents sat at round tables adorned with tablecloths and teacups, allowing for intimate conversations. Students asked questions and encouraged dialogue to flow freely, allowing time for tangents and building off anecdotes that piqued their interest along the way.
Certain themes could be overheard across tables. With colleges’ early decision notifications trickling in, it’s clear that seniors have major transitions on their minds, asking questions like, “How do you stop viewing change as something scary or unwanted?” To which one grandparent paused, took a sip of tea, and responded, “Even at my age, your life is changing and turning, and you have to get used to each new reality.”
Another common theme was loss. When asked how to cope with the grief of the death of a loved one, a grandmother shared wistfully, “You grow together, you’ve influenced each other, and so in some ways they’re always a part of you. You don’t lose that. One thing that makes it easier…is knowing that the person who died had a meaningful life, a good life. And that they enjoyed their time on this earth.”
As the On Being class seeks to build lives worth living and “capture and convey the wisdom found in the human condition” (per Ms. Ramsey’s course description), it’s hard to think of a greater source of inspiration than the lived experience of grandparents. That being said, not all of the wisdom-sharing was one-sided. In answering the opening question, “Are any feelings better than happiness?” Ben ’24 reflected, “I imagine maybe love feels better than happiness. When I think about my parents, they’ll get mad at me sometimes and I’ll get mad at them, and I might not necessarily be happy in that moment but I know I still love them and they still love me, so I think despite what we might actually be feeling, regardless, we know we still love each other.”
At that, the two sets of grandparents at the table looked at each other, nodded approvingly, and smiled.