The Meaning of Life

It has become more and more difficult, as we’ve become more and more connected through technology, to simply leave the tech at home and let your communication be unmediated by any electronic middle-man. This is one of Associate Professor of English David McGlynn’s goals in his newest class, loftily titled “The Meaning of Life” – to give people a chance to talk face to face, unable to halt conversation to check their phones, unable to ignore awkward pauses or tough subjects.

The idea for the class arose, McGlynn says, out of numerous conversations with students over the years about “ways to have a better, happier, more wellness-centered life.” How do you make sure you’re on the right path? What makes life meaningful: success, wealth, fame? Big questions like these aren’t out of place in any class of McGlynn’s – though often, in his more literature-focused classes, they aren’t tackled directly. In “The Meaning of Life,” they are. Students discuss these subjects – and many more – not only among themselves, but with other community members, including some important figures from Lawrence, Appleton and Outagamie County.

Community engagement, however, is not limited to the classroom; after class, students convene to walk together through town. The walks offer more opportunity for conversation and connection while also encouraging wellness, allowing students to get outside into the fresh air, and offering a protected way of breaking through the familiar Lawrence bubble.

Many Lawrence students don’t go on long walks through the city because they feel endangered or unwelcome for one reason or another; unfortunately, stigmas against people of color, LGBTQ people and others are all too present in Appleton.These group walks allow participants to move safely together though the community, walking and talking amongst one another and finding common ground with people they may never have met before.

While the first walk was exclusive to “Meaning of Life” students, on the most recent walk, students were invited to bring a guest with whom they had a fundamental difference or disagreement, allowing them a chance to bridge the gap.

Everyone is invited to join the class’s third and final walk on Thursday, May 24, beginning at 4:30 pm in front of Main Hall. In an effort to make a positive statement about community and diversity, we will be tentatively joined by Appleton alderpersons, members of the mayor’s office and the chief of police.

Slow-paced and designed to be accessible, the goal of this last walk is to bring as many community members together as possible. Hopefully, everybody will make a new connection as we move through Appleton together. And of course, don’t forget to leave the phone at home.