Opening Words from Sun. April 21 by Kara Hershberger

Good Morning. When I was asked to give opening words my first thought was to try out a tight five for some comedy open mic nights around town. Unfortunately, or fortunately, however you want to look at it, my first instinct was not to provide all of you with some thoughts that tied into a deeper message about how we’re all connected, and how everyone should become a Humanist. Then it occurred to me that despite meeting many of you (some of you multiple times, even if you may not remember), you may not know much about me. So, I thought I’d give you a bit of my background and if you find some of it amusing, or if you connect with it on some level, then I’ve done my job here, I think.

I was born in Danville, IL, hometown of Gene Hackman, Dick and Jerry Van Dyke, and Stephanie White (who, I found out while writing this, is head coach of a WNBA team, fun!). I attended the local community college and transferred to Illinois State University, where I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting. While attending Illinois State I joined the Army National Guard and served briefly as a queer person during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era, which I do not recommend.

After graduation, I worked for the Army as a civilian internal auditor for about 7 years. During this time was when I first got married (legally in Iowa, but my wedding ceremony was actually held here, at the Ethical Society), I had a child with my Partner, and finished my Master’s degree in Accounting at UMSL. After my time with the government I moved to a different job at a local accounting firm where I still worked on internal audits, but also branched out to things like IT audit and cybersecurity. Unfortunately my marriage didn’t work out, and so I moved to Illinois for a little over a year to establish residency so that I could get divorced because at that time there were still no federal gay marriage rights. This is an experience I also do not recommend (both the divorce and having to move to another state to get one).

During the nine years at my first firm I learned a lot, both personally and professionally. I moved back into my house to raise my son, I passed the CPA exam, and eventually, I remarried. COVID hit in 2020, and it was then that I realized that I am most likely an introvert (with a bit of extroversion, depending on the topic). I moved firms mid-Pandemic (this time to a very large company to focus on IT audit and cybersecurity) and although my career wasn’t affected by COVID, my second marriage did not survive. In case you’re wondering, I also do not recommend getting divorced a second time.

Now that you know the basics here are some rapid fire facts that may also be of interest to you: I have visited 32 states and three foreign countries. I have a cat (Pearl) that lives with me full-time and I sometimes dogsit two dogs (Rose and Abbie) that I once shared with my ex-wife. I have a brother and sister, both older, and two nieces and two nephews. My mom still lives in my hometown with her dog, Ruthie, in the house I grew up in. I would consider myself a moderate politically, but don’t worry, as I’ve found out in actually engaging people in dialogue, we probably agree on most issues. I can assure you that all of my friends and acquaintances, on all sides of the issues, have considered or are considering moving to a Scandinavian country. Finally, something I do recommend.

It was in early 2023, before my divorce was filed, but after separating from my wife, that I decided to make coming to the Ethical Society a part of my routine. I knew I needed a community, I just wasn’t sure if this was it. I was pleasantly surprised at the programming and kindness of the staff and members during my initial visits. As I told Stephanie Sigala during our winter holiday celebration last year when she checked in on me while I was eating alone (I was getting over a cold and didn’t want to spread germs un-masked), I’ve never felt alone when I’ve come here. I did not grow up religious and for me this is a great place to come, listen to a presentation about an interesting topic, and share conversations with kind people. And, whoops, I’m just now realizing maybe I accidentally slipped in a deeper message about connecting with people. To anyone visiting, I encourage you to interact with the community at your preferred level of engagement. You are welcome here, and you are not alone. Thank you.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.