Friday, May 17, 2013

Reunions and Reminiscences

My 30th college reunion is this weekend. I toyed with the idea of going, but in the end I let life get in the way. There was a party for my husband last night to attend, along with Calvin Ball's fundraiser. Today, tomorrow and Sunday are packed with Margo's Peabody Chorus rehearsals and concerts. And, of course, my in-laws are presenting their show at Abiding Savior Saturday night.

I know that if I had put my mind to it, and planned months in advance, I could have made the trip back to South Hadley this year.  Something inside me just couldn't do it, I suppose. How crazy is it that after thirty years I'm still not ready to go back?

I am a 1983 graduate of Mount Holyoke College. I have a liberal arts degree with a major in music. I worked for two years before applying to MHC, as an independent student, because my parents decided during my senior year that they were not going to fund my college education. I was a "bad investment."

I met a Mount Holyoke alum while I was waiting tables at Friendly's near New Haven. It turned out my boyfriend worked with another alum at the School of Organization and Management at Yale. They both reached out to me, encouraged me to visit and apply. Both wrote letters of recommendation for me.

Not for one instant had I ever thought of going to a women's college. But after two years of waiting tables, answering phones, and mind-numbing fast food work I was ready for something completely different. I knew that my 'college prep' oriented high school education meant nothing in the world of work. I was young, intelligent, with no marketable skills.

I was incredibly lucky. Mount Holyoke saw something in me and provided the scholarships and loans and a campus job to make my education possible. My participation in the choral program included trips to New York City, Montreal, and Spain. I will never forget hearing the Glee Club sing a Christmas carol I composed on the steps of St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue.

But throughout it all I was still the same insecure and lonely person I had been before college. And that is probably why I can't make myself go back. I feel squeamish about the "me" that was, all those years ago. I was often broke, with no parental support to get me through the rough patches. I felt defensive about not fitting in. I was not one of the Preppy girls with alligator shirts or Fair Isle sweaters.

I do remember the stunning Laurel Parade during graduation weekend. It's not just for the graduates. All the reunion classes who are present participate, all in white, many carrying signs that describe things about the life and time of their college years, or what they have done since graduation. The parade starts with the eldest alumnae, who were in a classic car, as I recall. So at the very end are the youngest, those about to graduate. We walked through all of those generations, seeing ourselves at twenty five or thirty, in middle age, as grandmothers. This is us. This is who we will be.

Perhaps my reason for going back should have less to do with me and more to do with them, the graduates. Participation in their celebration is an affirmation of their work and dreams. We believe in higher education for women. We believe we can make a difference. We believe you have a special place in this world to do good.

“Go where no one else will go. Do what no one else will do.”
                                                     --Mary Lyon, founder, Mount Holyoke College

Next time.


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