Monday, June 2, 2014

On Women Coming Home

Yes, I owe you an end of month check-in post, but indulge me.  It's been a tough few weeks to be a woman.  Kitty Pryde's story was stripped away from her and given to Wolverine in Days of Future Past, which had me angry and bewildered, then Isla Vista happened and I was violently reminded that it's dangerous for women, even in a developed society such as the United States.  (Other countries, other dangers, but home isn't necessarily safe, either.  #YesAllWomen.)

I am the product of four years of all-female undergraduate education and, this past weekend, Hollins called me home.  It was reunion, an annual event during which amazing women head to a leafy campus near Roanoke, Virginia to laugh and reminisce and reflect and so on.  This was a big one for me - I suppose all reunions are big, but some birthdays are bigger than others.  My class was forged in flood during our first semester as freshmen when the Roanoke Valley was inundated by floodwaters, leaving us quite literally stranded on campus (this was in pre-cellphone days).  Power lines were down in standing water, we were fed cold sandwiches via canoe, and our parents were panicked.  It was an adventure and, like all adventures, it had large chunks of awful scattered throughout.  We had no electricity or water while stranded, classes were cancelled for three-plus weeks while the campus was made livable and during the final three weeks of that semester, we did six weeks of work, with classes running from 8 am to 11 pm. (Remember, this was pre-online classes.  By the way, it took ten years for the library to recover from the losses.  People frantically flung rare books into canoes, but not everything - not by a long shot - could be saved from the water and subsequent mold.)  I remember trying to read de Tocqueville's Democracy in America in my hometown library for my history survey class while being distracted as all get-out.  It was my first time living away from home and I was struggling to find where I fit in at college and now I'd been sent home.  So many other girls at college seemed confident and self-assured and I was this skinny, unsure country mouse scurrying around all these brash butterflies who seemed to soar effortlessly.

How little we know.  Everyone's struggling.  Absolutely.  Everyone.  You just sometimes can't see it.

Since it was a "big reunion," our senior pictures had been printed on our name tags.  When I picked mine up, I gazed at the picture of that girl for a long moment.  I remember that picture - I hated it back then. My hair looked terrible that day and my face was round as a peasant's, and I could go on and on.  But when I looked at that picture on my name badge, what struck me was how gorgeous I was.  I look confident and happy and - seriously - gorgeous.  And it wasn't just me - I noticed that time and again looking at the name tags of friends who were also at reunion.  We're so hard on ourselves.  We focus on the pimple that sprung up on our nose, or the hair that won't curl the way we want it to, and we're sure that it's all anyone will see and we forget that's not us; it's just what we look like when the shutter clicked.

Hollins is the reason I look that way in that picture.  No, Hollins didn't make me who I am; I had a large part to play in that, as did some good friends, some good experiences, and (to be strictly honest) some bad ones.  In that picture, I'm not who I am now, but I'm starting to be her.  And let's be clear - I like her.

What did Hollins do for me?  Hmm - so much I could write to answer that, but let me tell just one story.  When I was at Hollins, I was a theatre major.  Coming from a high school that didn't have so much as a drama club, that still amazes me.  Since I graduated, the theatre has undergone major renovations, as has the program as a whole.  During some unstructured time over the weekend, I wandered into the building I spent the most time in during my years at college just wanting to once again be in the place that helped form me.  (Theatre people are notorious for skulking around places.  We're like mongooses - we "run and find out.")  As I slipped in, I was greeted by a man who turned out to be a theatre faculty member.  We chatted for a minute and he asked if I was on campus for reunion.  I replied that I was and that I had been a theatre major, so I was curious to see the building, if he didn't mind me nosing about.  He smiled broadly and said words that brought a sudden sting of tears to my eyes:

"Welcome home."

And this, Fair Readers, is what a college should do.  This man, who didn't know me from Adam's housecat and who had work of his own to do, dropped everything to give me a tour of my old stomping grounds, proudly showing off how the renovations had added to - probably doubled - that available space.  See, it's all well and good to talk about how a college is a community and is a family and is whatever other emblem and metaphor you want to use.  But the proof is in the action.

You want a world with strong, confident women who will work like rented mules to make the world a better, fairer place?  Hollins.  Seek it out.  Visit.  And yes, support it.  You could easily do worse - you're unlikely to do better.

1 comment:

Rhonda W said...

Beautiful! Before, I only knew the name: Hollins. Now, I feel I know the place.