The Intern

Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro are shown here in a scene from the 2015 motion picture The Intern.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Richland Source Gray Matters team traveled to New York City on Oct. 24 for The New Old Age summit sponsored by The Atlantic. This was one of the topics covered at that convention.

Remember that 2015 movie, “The Intern,” with Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway?

If you haven’t seen it, the plot basically flips the script on the traditional workplace intern. Anne Hathaway isn’t the intern. Robert De Niro is.

“Essentially, it’s an older guy in a role meant for young people,” Sally Susman, executive vice president for corporate affairs at Pfizer, said in a session at The Atlantic’s “The New Old Age” summit. (This session was produced not by The Atlantic but by Pfizer, which was a corporate underwriter of the summit.)

When she saw the movie, Susman thought of a man she knew named Paul Critchlow.

Critchlow had a wealth of experience -- the kind that, while not inevitable among the older set, is only possible with age. He’d been a college football star, a decorated Vietnam veteran, a journalist, a press secretary, a corporate communications director and a vice chairman of Merrill Lynch Bank of America.

Critchlow was 70 years old and retired, but Susman had a hunch he wasn’t enjoying retirement all that much.

So Susman took Critchlow to lunch and popped the question, “Will you be my senior intern?”

What followed was a summer during which Critchlow hung out with, and worked alongside, several of Pfizer’s college-aged interns in the communications department.

“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Critchlow said. “I had retired and was pretty much feeling down and out. I was restless, and worst of all, I was feeling kind of irrelevant.”

The young adults were more altruistic and empathetic than Critchlow expected, and being around them was invigorating.

The 19- and 21 year-olds soaked up lessons from Critchlow’s life and work experience, and in return, they taught him to use social media.

“They taught me to be a little quicker, and I taught them to be a little more patient,” Critchlow said.

It would be great if more companies would hire senior interns or find other creative ways to foster intergenerational working relationships.

And as individuals, we can all learn from Critchlow’s experience.

“I learned that, one, I still have a lot to contribute. And two, I have a lot to learn,” Critchlow said. “I think those are the two basic elements of staying engaged as you get older.”

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