Alumni Speak: Eleanor Alexander nine years after graduation

by Eleanor Alexander

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks - we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need.”

– Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

It’s been nine years since I graduated from McMaster and nine years since I was an active member of an “Open Circle” group, yet I still frequently reflect on how my involvement with the group helped to shape my current life.

For one, friendships I formed through the group have endured much longer than other connections I made during my university years. I think it’s the depth of sharing and the authenticity encouraged by Jeff and Marybeth that led to deeper relationships through the group’s activities. Those friends helped me to weather the challenges of life as a twenty-something with faith and hope. Each of the last three years, I’ve attended weddings of fellow Open Circle alumni, and was pleased not only to see old friends celebrate such a major milestone but also to catch up with other alumni in attendance.

Eleanor (far left) at the Open Circle winter retreat in 2003

A second legacy of my participation in an Open Circle discussion group is its contributions to my current career as a high school teacher. Being a discussion group facilitator helped me realize how much I enjoy leading discussion, and my Grade Eleven Philosophy classes feel at times like a continuation of those discussion group sessions. I’ve even shared with students numerous quotations that I first heard while learning from Jeff Druery. In particular, discovering the words of American educator Parker Palmer was a powerful legacy for me, as his ideas of vocation have echoed in my mind since my university days.

Finally, I’ve drawn inspiration on numerous occasions over the years from thinking of Jeff and Marybeth and their commitment to their work. I witnessed the birth of Student Open Circles as an outgrowth of their earlier work with Christian teens and young adults. At the time I was, and continue to be, impressed by their integrity and commitment in leaving their secure positions in order to walk the challenging path of building an organization that is truly responsive to the culturally diverse, largely secular, environment of a modern campus and community-at-large. I feel deeply blessed to have been involved with Open Circle and also to continue to witness its growth and legacy.