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Life Challenges and Retirement in the 21st Century Convocation and Reunions 2008

By Blake Sawicky ’11 M.Div.

Now is an exciting and dynamic time to be a Yale Divinity School graduate in retirement.  At least that appeared to be the consensus of a “breakout” session on “Life Challenges and Retirement in the 21st Century” held on the second day of Convocation and Reunions 2008.

About two dozen retired graduates assembled in the RSV Room on Oct. 14 to join a discussion led by John Lindner, director of the YDS Department of External Relations; Carolyn Engelhardt, director of the YDS Ministry Resource Center; and Mary Beth Congdon, deputy director of the Yale Office of Planned Giving.  Conversation flowed around three major points:  new, emerging realities of aging and retirement; the ways in which YDS can be constructively and closley involved in those new realities; and a number of methods by which retirees can financially contribute to Yale while gaining an extra level of financial stability themselves.

Retirement meeting

A Revolution in Aging

“I’m not sure that anybody can really write the script on retirement anymore,” said Lindner. “We are really experiencing a revolution in aging.”  He presented new statistics on life expectancies documenting that for many people as much as 30 years of life now lie beyond the point of retirement—statistics that Lindner says demand a “reinvention of what it means to retire, to live a long and healthy life, and make a difference in society.”

YDS can send resources to retirees interested in educating their churches or volunteering in social programs, through the Ministry Resource Center.  “Every stage in life is an opportunity and platform for ministry” suggested Engelhardt, “whether it be engaged with racism, multicultural inclusiveness, citizenship, tough moral issues, or other life concerns.”

Other options include a renewed participation in the academy, either in going back to school for courses of interest or in going back to teach a course or two as an adjunct.  In either case, learning or teaching, the brain and spirit are actively engaged in a stimulating process that carries with it the opportunity to minister to colleagues and students.  For those who cannot come to campus, there are online opportunities such as webcasts of YDS events and the Yale Bible Study series, featuring Dean Harold Attridge and David Bartlett, the J. Edward Lantz & Ruth Cox Lanz Professor Emeritus of Christian Communication.

Difficulties and Financial Security

Still, there are serious difficulties in retirement, it was acknowledged, particularly in terms of financial stability as markets become increasingly volatile.  Furthermore, the difference in perspective between retirees relying solely on savings and investments and others who are still drawing salaries and earning hourly wages can sometimes create generational strife and division in neighborhood politics.

To increase financial stability for its retired alumni while also increasing the size of its endowment, Yale University has instituted a number of gift programs—the Charitable Gift Annuity and Charitable Remainder Trust, for example—whereby individuals can make donations to the University and then receive regular income for the rest of their lives, adjusted (at a rate depending on the chosen gift program) and secured by the total performance of the entire Yale Endowment.

The discussion ended on a hopeful note, as those present expressed their desire to continue the connections and relationships they had made over the course of Convocation 2008 after returning home.  As Lindner summarized, “We’ve achieved our goal of beginning a conversation and building networks with folks that have common interests.”

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