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Inspired Leadership Initiative graduates its inaugural class

| Friday, May 17, 2019

This year’s commencement will include some graduates who have a little more experience under their belts — and a little more gray hair.

The 2018-2019 academic year served as the inaugural year of The Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI), a program that invites people who have completed their traditional career to spend a year at Notre Dame.

Photo courtesy Christopher Stevens

Members of the inaugural Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) cohort pose with Fr. Jenkins. The program aims to help retirees to discern their next steps in life after they have retired.

Christopher Stevens, who co-founded the program with Thomas Schreier, said ILI finally makes the Notre Dame experience accessible to every age group.

“There are plenty of opportunities for people who are in middle school, grade school, high school, college, executive MBA, whatever it may be,” he said. “Once people turn 55 to 60, there’s really no place for them to go if they’ve completed their traditional career but still have a lot of tread left on their shoes.”

The ILI is part of a growing movement called “encore education” which affords retired people the opportunity to temporarily return to academia before deciding how they want to spend the rest of their life.

The idea of encore education was first recognized by Harvard University, who started their post-retirement program in 2007, followed by Stanford University in 2015. Stevens said they researched these previously established programs and even met with the universities to build a successful version of their own at Notre Dame.

“Fifteen amazing people … come to Notre Dame for an entire academic year,” Stevens said. “They can audit two to four courses with the help of a faculty advisor across the entire University — undergraduate, graduate, law, wherever it may be. There are weekly lunches with amazing guest speakers. [University President] Fr. John [Jenkins] was the final guest speaker himself. … There are weekly dinners with just the fellows so the cohort can build that bond even stronger.”

Although the program was inspired by those at Harvard and Stanford, the ILI is unique to Notre Dame. The fellows take advantage of Notre Dame’s Global Gateway locations through two trips to Rome and Jerusalem. They are also able to experience the spiritual enrichment of Notre Dame with the help of a spiritual advisor.

Tuck Hopkins, a lawyer who graduated from Notre Dame in 1974, said he was drawn to the program because it seemed like an opportunity to “look at yourself.”

“I had been retired for about four or five months,” Hopkins said. “My interest was that it looked like it was completely a wonderful opportunity to look at yourself. To look at where you might go and that sort of thing. That’s what drove me to apply. I did not have any desire to figure out what my next job is going to be. It was never like that. It was always … a refreshing opportunity to look at my past life and look at where I am.”

In the past year, Hopkins took as many classes as he could, ranging from history to business to photography.

While he has not taken a single law course, Hopkins has been able to apply his expertise in various areas across campus. He has guest-lectured in undergraduate courses, served as a judge for mock trials in the law school and mentored students who are interested in law.

Outside of academics, Hopkins said he and his wife have enjoyed experiencing an undefeated regular football season, going to women’s basketball games and seeing on-campus productions such as “Sorin.”

In addition to Hopkins, this year’s inaugural cohort includes lawyers, doctors and businessmen and women from a variety of backgrounds.

“There’s a man from Singapore who achieved great success in the financial market, but wanted to do something more with his life,” Stevens said.

The oldest fellow is an 82-year-old banker from Chicago, who, Stevens said, has “more energy than most of us.”

“We are absolutely as diverse as the dickens, but there is this commonality that is invigorating. It is really, truly amazing,” Hopkins said. “We’re just like brothers and sisters from the first day we met. It’s been absolutely phenomenal.”

Since that first day, the experience he and the other fellows have had has only become better, Hopkins said.

“Every one of us has had the time of our lives. When we talk now after the seven or eight months … we just talk about how this has transformed us, how it’s changed us, how we’re feeling better about ourselves spiritually,” Hopkins said. “Success does not even come close to describing how wonderful this has been. It’s life-changing.”

While Stevens said he hesitates to use the word life-changing, he feels this year has been a successful pioneer year for the program.

“I believe that our goal, in terms of providing the program, is to provide something that … truly is life-enhancing,” he said. “[I hope] people walk away from here with three things. One, inspired to be a greater force for good. Two, more educated about things that are really important to them that they never had before. And three, that they become advocates for the program because it’s been so important to them that they want to be able to spread the word about it.”

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