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Miriam Roland

Miriam Roland, '51, has been a lifelong volunteer—as a child in Montreal during World War II, rolling bandages with her mother, and years later in Atherton as president of volunteer organizations such as the Sequoia Chapter of Hadassah. PHOTO: Katie Githens

Across the Generations

Miriam Roland, '51, was a freshman in Roble Hall when she witnessed her first Stanford reunion. The year was 1947 and the Class of 1897 had just gathered beneath the oaks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation. Having grown up without grandparents, Roland confesses her perception of the elderly as a teenager was dim: "I thought that as people grew older they became, well, decrepit and somewhat inarticulate." Imagine her shock to see 70-year-olds who could not only walk and talk, but also even crack jokes!

Inspired, Roland decided on the spot she would attend her own 50th reunion at Stanford. That was 10 years ago. Now, in honor of her 60th reunion, Roland's latest gift to Stanford celebrates long life: The Miriam Aaron Roland Fellowship Fund Focusing on the Elderly.

The fellowship will support an undergraduate student doing research or service related to the elderly or intergenerational communication. The Haas Center for Public Service will select a recipient for the full-time summer or part-time school-year position as early as fall 2013.

Roland chose to focus on the elderly after a great deal of strategic thinking. Stanford already had programs focused on children, the poor, and minority groups. Aha—she thought, there's the gap: the elderly.

Moreover, as a trained psychotherapist, Roland sees the effect of retirement on her clients. Some cope well; others struggle. "Once people are no longer part of the active workforce, they lose a certain amount of personal dignity in their own minds," she says.

Roland herself is a spry 81-year-old who practices yoga and travels regularly from her home in Montreal. Some friends and classmates have been less lucky, struggling with declining health and the loneliness that can pervade retirement homes. Even so, Roland believes the elderly are an untapped asset in our society.

"I wondered if somehow the shift could be made that the elderly are not a burden but an additional resource," she says.

Already the wheels are turning for faculty.

History Professor Zephyr Frank is involved with an interactive history project in East Palo Alto. The team is reaching out to local citizens with an online platform called History Pin (www.historypin.com) that allows users to upload photos, videos, stories, and memorabilia into a Google Maps interface.

Stanford undergraduates and East Palo Alto youth involved will guide the project's direction, but Frank anticipates the elderly will be a wellspring of information. "Ideally we'll have young people who are relatively new to the community speaking with some old folks who have been in the community for 50 years," he says.

The Stanford Center on Longevity, which studies the science and culture of human aging, is another logical possibility for the fellowship support.

This is Roland's third major gift to the Haas Center. In 1993, she named a room in the Haas Center in memory of her daughter, Jessie, and, in 2004, she established the Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize to honor faculty who connect students with volunteer service in a meaningful way through academics.

That’s one reason she's comfortable not knowing precisely who will use her latest gift. "Where this will lead I really don’t know," she says with a twinkle. "I'm willing to be pleasantly surprised."

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