This summer as a DOROT Summer College Intern has been full of important lessons and happy surprises. One unexpected takeaway is the intergenerational friendship that I formed with my Legacy Project match, Leah.
(DOROT’s Legacy Programs ensure that older adults interested in recording their legacies for loved ones and generations to come can do so from the comfort of their own home with the help of volunteers.)
Given all that has happened over the past year and a half, it is often difficult to stay positive in remote settings. I have found that it is usually hard for me to connect with people that I haven’t met in-person. After all, how could someone I meet over Zoom have such a long-lasting impression on me? As it turns out, creating a bond is definitely possible.
How does one even begin to articulate the wonderful woman that is Leah? It is difficult to express just how lovely she is with words alone. To date, I’ve only spoken to Leah for a total of seven hours. Yet somehow, it feels like we’re old friends who’ve known each other for a long time. Whether we talk about Trader Joe’s, Netflix shows, or our cultural backgrounds, we have a great time. Our conversations range from casual and funny to deep and meaningful.
The process of documenting Leah’s legacy was an organic one. Our weekly Zoom calls weren’t outlined or structured, but rather, free-flowing and open. Whenever we spoke, we would talk about anything and everything. I would jot down whatever seemed relevant to the Legacy Project, and Leah would help me connect the dots later. As time went on, the project became almost secondary to our friendship. I have learned so much from Leah about perseverance, kindness, and wit.
Being Leah’s friend has made me a better person. I think before, I often viewed older adults primarily in “elderly” terms. That is, regardless of who the person was, it was almost as if that “elder” identity came above and before everything else. But as Leah and I got closer, I learned that it is certainly possible to do and be many different things. After all, I have always embraced the fact that I am multiple things - a woman, a Latina, a musician, a young adult. No identity is more important than the other because I am all of these things at all times. It seems so obvious, but if my different “selves” can coexist, then of course hers can, too!
Leah’s identity as an older adult is important, of course, but it’s also just one component of who she is in entirety. Leah also happens to be a Jewish immigrant woman, and these identities equally shape her worldview and daily outlook. Looking back, I now know that my previous assumption was rooted in ageism – which I’ve come to realize is nothing more than a mere social construct. Really, older adults are only viewed as different because we live in an ageist world that deems them as such, so it’s important to check our internalized biases whenever we can. My hope, then, is that if this shared assumption of reality is socially constructed, then it can be changed for the better.
I am so grateful for the chance to have gotten to know Leah this summer. In a time of such turmoil and uncertainty, she has reminded me to embrace humanity and keep smiling. We could certainly all benefit from Leah’s advice to simply enjoy ourselves and “treat every day like it’s a blessing.”
- Katerina Karaiskos
Photo screenshot from Summer College Intern Closing Session.
Katerina served as a 2021 DOROT Summer College Intern in the Impact & Evaluation and Marketing & Communication Departments. She is currently a senior at Cornell University majoring in Biology and Society and minoring in History. Academically, Katerina is interested in bridging the gap between STEM and the humanities by researching issues that are scientific in nature but have social implications. Outside of the classroom, Katerina is a part of three different musical ensembles on campus – The CallbaXX A Cappella, the Cornell Chorale, and Deixa Sambar. She is very grateful for her time at DOROT and will apply the lessons she learned in all of her future endeavors!