Lifelong Learning Through Kendal College

Even as you age, new brain cell growth can still occur, especially when you engage in stimulating learning activities. Studies have even linked continued learning with improved memory, the delay of cognitive decline and reduced stress. That’s why it’s no surprise that lifelong learning has become such an important phenomenon among today’s older adults. Of course, the residents at Kendal at Lexington are no exception — and luckily the nearby academic communities of Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute provide easy access to expertise.

And it’s thanks to many professors from our area that the Kendal College program at Kendal at Lexington has been so successful over the past several years. Originally launched in the spring of 2003, Kendal College is a resident-driven program that organizes courses on a variety of topics. “We usually have them every couple of months,” says Sally Emory, the chairperson of the program since 2011. “Most of the speakers are current or former professors.” The rest of the planning committee is comprised primarily of people who are familiar with the local colleges and have some connections with potential speakers.

The courses are typically three sessions, most often in a lecture format. Some past topics include: “The Iliad and the Odyssey,” “Soviet Russia from 1991-present,” “Renaissance Art in Italy,” and “Living in Rockbridge County: Past, Present and Future.” As evident by this mix, the program aims to find topics that would interest a wide range of residents.

Speaking to the ill-informed reputation retirement communities have for simply being places where seniors play games like Bingo, Sally says, “It’s just not the kind of place we really are.” At Kendal, she points out, people are really interested in learning new things. “It’s just hard to imagine people not being interested in lifelong learning,” she says.

Even when the topics are overly specialized, the residents have still shown interest. “Somebody gave us a program on the Quantum Theory and he was probably the only one who actually understood it, but we try to listen as intelligently as we can,” Sally says.

In fact, she thinks many of the professors like coming to teach the residents because they often have a unique perspective on the topics at hand, especially historical topics. “For their students, it actually is history, but for us, some of it was our life. It brings something to the conversation,” she explains. Plus, there’s the added benefit of not having to do any grading: “A lot of [the speakers] enjoy doing it because they don’t have to give us tests or see if we did the homework.”

The sessions, which typically draw between 60 and 90 people, are most often free of charge, but occasionally cost $10 to cover an honorarium for the speaker.

Coming up in January, the Kendal College program will be hosting John Mason, who will give three lectures on the topic of “What is Liberalism and Why Is It Failing?” The lectures will explore three main themes: 1) the historical origins of liberalism in the West, 2) the relationship between liberalism and democracy, and 3) why the liberal world order has come under fierce attack since the fall of the Berlin Wall, when it seemed the West had achieved its greatest triumph.

Kendal residents and invited guests can attend Kendal College program. “All you can do it is try it,” Sally says. “Except for an hour of your time, what have you got to lose? Why wouldn’t you want to try something that you might find interesting?” Prospective residents can find out more information by contacting the marketing department at