‘After Hours’ provides NOW Generation casual environment to interact with visiting speaker

As dusk painted Chautauqua Lake soft hues of orange and purple, NOW Generation members arrived at the Athenaeum Hotel for a chance to speak casually with Army Maj. James Smith, who had lectured about the role of “military millennials” in contemporary America earlier in the week.

For the 2013 Season, the NOW Generation — a group of young adults who work to promote the Chautauqua experience — has expanded the number and the variety of the programs it offers. As part of this effort, the organization offered a special late-night conversation with Smith at 9 p.m. Wednesday, July 3.

“Recognizing that the NOW Generation’s time at Chautauqua is limited by other commitments and activities, this new ‘After Hours’ gathering was an opportunity to hold an intimate gathering in a laidback setting,” said Megan Sorenson, assistant director of the Chautauqua Fund and staff liaison to the NOW Generation.

On top of introductions and exchanging pleasantries, Smith, 37, who has two young children, lauded Chautauqua Institution for being such a child-friendly environment.

Patrons of the event spread out on the Athenaeum’s expansive, candle-lit porch, sitting in cushioned wicker chairs, idly chatting with Smith or enjoying refreshments.

Matt Lockwood, a new member of the NOW Generation and a communications manager with Google, reclined with his wife, Sheri, and a group of her friends. Sheri grew up here, but Matt has only been coming to the Institution for three summers. However, he already loves the community and sees the NOW Generation’s mission to be especially noble.

“The opportunity to have a thread of continuity between generations is special and unique, and I think it’s great for young Chautauquans to get involved,” Matt said.

The event’s patrons headed inside to the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor, where Sorenson formally introduced Smith and his wife, Marie.

Smith described his accomplishments in the Army, but not without noting the talent of the people in the room around him.

“There are so many talented people who have done so many amazing things present right now,” Smith said. “That’s one of my favorite things about being here. It has reinvigorated my sense of what’s important in life and humanity.”

After a short speech from Smith, Sorenson invited NOW Generation attendees to ask Smith about his career and to vocalize comments and concerns about the Institution.

Sorenson was optimistic about the event’s success.

“We were so honored to have Maj. Smith attend with Marie and share his experiences as a member of this week’s young and diverse lecture platform,” Sorenson said. “The passion and love of Chautauqua expressed by members of the NOW Generation is very evident, and I am excited by the dialogue and ideas that were shared at the ‘After Hours.’ It’s a great starting point for us to work together in innovating and enriching the Chautauqua experience.”

John Haskell, chair of the NOW Generation’s advisory council, thought the event provided a chance for fruitful dialogue that would be important in ensuring the Institution’s future growth.

“I thought feedback shared by the community during [the program] was good, and feedback needs to be shared and responded to in order to make Chautauqua a thriving place,” Haskell said. “As Chautauquans, we also have a responsibility to seek collaborative and proactive ways of engaging with the administration. The quality and actionability of that collaboration is something the new advisory council is making a primary focus; it’s critical we engage the younger generations in directing Chautauqua forward.”

He also spoke to the need for the NOW Generation to strike a balance between tradition and change.

“Sustainability is part upholding tradition and what makes us unique, but also maintaining our relevance and accessibility in a changing world,” Haskell said. “It’s a tough balance, but our council would like to help bridge the community, administration and trustees in a positive, actionable dialogue to make Chautauqua an even better place, one step at a time.”