Monday, June 1, 2015

One is Silver, the Others Gold - Weston and Wellesley, MA

Galen Tower, Wellesley College (photo credit: Wellesley College)

Twenty-five years ago today, I graduated from Wellesley College along with 600+ classmates. It was a terribly hot day and while the campus looked gorgeous (and does in rain, shine, winter or spring), I was not at my best that day. For several weeks our campus had been overrun with media, the KGB and American secret service. You see, the wife of our sitting president was coming to speak, as well as the wife of the sitting president of the Soviet Union. Yes, it was still the Soviet Union then. 

For a couple of months the campus had been embroiled in a media storm--I have little interest in reviewing it when one of my classmates has so eloquently done so here. Yesterday I found my box of newspaper clippings from that time--the media portrayal of my college and its graduates changed forever my view of what is said by the media. Words of classmates were twisted for maximum impact, the overall debate changed (we had "disinvited" Mrs. Bush, according to the media, a "fact" that was never true), and hundreds of unique and wonderful women summarily dismissed as spoiled brats. 

What should have been a time to celebrate and enjoy turned into a bit of a hassle. The graduation ceremony was moved to the big lawn rather than the gorgeous academic quad because of security risks and space constraints. During the actual time that Barbara and Raisa were there at the graduation, I could barely hear speeches over the clicking and whirring of the photographers seated just behind me. When the "famous" speeches were over, half the media packed up loudly in the middle of other events. I have not willingly given a media interview since that time though once I did appear in print for my company in Brazil, and just recently I spoke to the local paper about my college's plans for donated land in Wellesley. It was a learning experience that I appreciate.

Wellesley, more than any other experience (including ex-patriate living in Brazil for 9 years), changed who I was and has guided who I now am. I came from a sheltered small town in Connecticut, much like the small town I now live in--I was a driven, athletic kid and continued that in college. But,  I learned, there were many women more driven, more focused and more athletic that I was. I worked hard. I am proud of my college degree, of those two little words "cum laude" after it. I joined the crew team--I was never the strongest, but I was always there rowing my little heart out.

Studying by the lake, on the way to crew practice

And I met the friends who are the gold. They opened my eyes to different experiences, different religions, new places and bad tv shows (Twin Peaks, for those who are of my generation). My closest friends all lived with me in one of the smallest dorms on campus during the first year--the former stables. While I am opposed to this dorm still being used as a dorm because of its size and isolation (no dining hall), the fact is my best friends were made there.

My second year roommate introduced me to a "new" religion. I had never understood the Jewish religion or its holidays or customs. I learned about Shabbat, she told me what kosher actually meant and I held a candle for her when she needed to speak the words. She and I were so different--she was a college government leader, she loved social activities, she was a night owl. In college, I was shy, an early bird for crew practice and a non-practicing Protestant. Yet, we got along like a house on fire. I can still hear her call out "knock knock" during our senior year as she crossed from her room to mine and just opened up the door.  We wrote each other bad poetry while sitting on purple chairs in the library. During wintersession senior year she studied women Holocaust survivors while I wrote my paper on the tactics and techniques of the Viet Cong--we shared horror stories and ruggalach (I still can't spell it). She is the only one who can call me Krissie.

Another close friend brought me to her home in Bar Harbor where I began a 30 year love affair with Acadia National Park and all things Maine. Well, not their governor. This friend also introduced me to down east humor and story-telling. She would have hilarious dreams mostly about her family every night and make me spit out my pancakes laughing at the cafeteria breakfast the next day. We once had a diet that involved brownies and M&Ms (with salads for lunch) that was an epic fail. 

A third friend was from Connecticut too--we drove to one march for women's lives in DC together. We were similarly interested in economics, and the Soviet Union, and both spent junior year (me just a semester) in England. We had several ski trips together, one particularly exciting one involved fish-tailing her Chevy Sprint all over some northern highway, crashing into a huge snowbank and having to be fished out by tow trucks and her dad. And we still went skiing the next day.

One of my close friends now lives in Switzerland. She had (and still has, I think) Swiss parents and invited me once to travel with her to Luzern to visit her grandmother there. Grandma spoke no English and I spoke no Swiss-German but we played cards together and I learned a cute swear that sounds something like "fieferdeckel" from her. I think it means "darn." We also had a number of road trips in her red Suburu wagon, including to Walden Pond, a place I now live two miles from.

As I celebrate my silver college anniversary today (and this upcoming weekend at Reunion weekend), I celebrate my friends (and others, including crew teammates, that I have not enough space to mention). They continue to enrich my life--one came over to help when my move arrived here in Weston and the moving guys simply dropped and ran. The same one invited me and my kids to her Maine retreat last summer when we had no furniture and nothing to do--her teenaged daughters built fairy houses with the boys, her husband made a crab castle with them, and she allowed the boys to shoot plastic arrows for her Maine coon cats (not AT them). 

Another invited us up to her Maine weekend home and we came complete with a just-off-the-plane-and-traumatized Haifa, my 12 year old labrador with limited mobility.  She piloted the kids around the lake on the pontoon boat, took us out for ice cream and made the Labor Day weekend before school start one of the most memorable for the kids.  And many other Wellesley classmates have held my hand at various points in my life--a recent new friend-classmate in São Paulo even helped us find a mortgage broker and sprang into action when my son broke his arm on the first day here and later with another health scare. My Wellesley degree is priceless, but not for the reasons I expected at age 21.

So, dear Wellesley, I cannot totally embrace my graduation day, which was frankly a pain in the ass.  But I thank you most kindly for bringing me the gold.  To my friends, see you Friday.

1 comment:

  1. I hope my wife Jennifer will cherish all of her college experience as much as you. For her its been a little different but she too will have those precious "cum laude" words. Friendships are priceless and your words solidify that.