Chautauqua’s NOW Generation Ignites Season With New Leadership


The Girls’ Club received old and new members of the NOW Generation last Sunday afternoon as it kicked off its summer celebration.

However, the time was also one of transition. Speaking publicly for the first time were the new chair of the advisory council, Katie Prechtl Cooke — in a position formerly held by John Haskell — and vice chair Amy Schiller, whose predecessor was Ben Sorensen.

Comprising young adults ages 21–40, the NOW Generation expresses itself as finding value and meaning in promoting the Chautauqua experience, devoting both time, energy and resources in ensuring its longevity and continued relevancy.

“The NOW Generation has been a part of Chautauqua for more than a decade,” Cooke said. “But under John and Ben’s leadership, it has become a much more visible organization. We are connecting long-time Chautauquans with new Chautauquans, and we are engaging with one another. We are meeting up on playgrounds with our children in the summer and connecting in cities around the country during the off-season. We have a voice. We have a presence. And we have established that voice as a team.”

Mhoire Murphy, an advisory council member and lifelong Chautauquan, remembered the early period of the organization and how it progressed.

“We weren’t quite sure what this would evolve to be,” Murphy said. “There was a lot of excitement around how we get our age group involved. But with this summer with the new set of leadership, it’s sort of the second phase of things.”

Russell Bermel, an advisory council member who is focused on helping engage “NOW Gen” volunteers with regional events, expressed his admiration for both the Institution and the NOW Generation. He also said the “NOW Gen” can serve as a “funnel of sorts” between the young of Chautauqua and the more senior.

“I love Chautauqua,” Bermel said. “And here it’s the best of both worlds. I get to see new and repeat faces. The Institution’s administration has really been integral and engaged in including us and making this more of a reality. And as something we can all take part in, you really don’t need to be hesitant. Just come to one of our events and try it out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

One of the surprises for that evening was a selection of performances by actors of the Chautauqua Theater Company. Thematically encompassing a spectrum of love and loss, desire and rejection, fear and loathing, the pieces staged ranged from Shakespeare to original winning plays by members of the Young Playwrights Project.

“The reason this is so important is to show that possibility of change to everyone and to continue that conversation,” said Andrew Borba, co-artistic director of the CTC. “And the NOW Generation is smack dab in the middle of that arc.”

Before recognizing and thanking President Tom Becker for his support and service to the NOW Generation, Sorensen gave a few words inciting the quality of the organization individually and holistically.

“ ‘All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual,’ ” Sorensen said, quoting Albert Einstein. “And as a group, we came to not just develop individually, but to help others as well. If you practice Chautauqua ideals, incredible things happen and that can make the world a better place. Chautauqua grows as you grow. And we get to give back to it.”

Sorensen said where the NOW Generation stands today wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Becker, who then spoke to the NOW Generation and its application and involvement at Chautauqua.

“[Chautauqua Institution] is a nutty gathering,” Becker said. “And it doesn’t make any sense  in the world. But it makes sense here. Accessing information isn’t difficult. It’s everywhere. Access to meaning is a huge issue. And the ability for you to have these philosophical conversations across generations, I’d just like to thank you for embracing the difficult and the valuable.”

(Photo by Mike Clark.)

Joshua Gurian

The author Joshua Gurian

Joshua Gurian is a graduate of Binghamton University Class of 2015, with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature. He currently lives as a freelance writer in Chicago.