It was all thanks to my mom that I even considered Wellesley College. She convinced me to think about it, took me to visit, encouraged me to apply, and when I got in, assured me that she and my dad were prepared to do what it took to pay for it, even though I could have gone to UMass/Amherst for free. When I got into Wellesley I visited and stayed overnight - that visit convinced me to go.
This weekend I attended my 25th reunion; I still can't believe that a quarter century has passed since we graduated ....as far as I could see, many women looked exactly the same! We have hardly aged! At least not in our eyes. Last night we had a blast dancing at our class party - hearing music from that era, it was as if we were 19 and the years had just slipped away. Until I got up this morning and my knees were more creaky than usual.
My first year at Wellesley was not without its difficulties. I came from a small town, I was 17 and had hardly been away from my parents; my family was small and close, my town was economically fairly homogeneous, and no one had even heard of Wellesley. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was filling some sort of quota (Latina from small high school in western MA? Check!) until I met with our dean, Pamela Daniels, who remembered the essay I wrote for my application and told me how much she had loved reading it.
My first year roommate was from Denver and from the glamorous photo she sent, seemed very sophisticated (we wrote to each other before classes started). Two of the first things I learned about her were that her house had been in Architectural Digest magazine, and that she had come out in a Debutante Ball - a term that I had never heard before.
My roomie and I ended up learning a lot from each other. This weekend, we remembered how she was the first one to pluck my bushy, untouched eyebrows. She thought it was adorable that my dad made me mix tapes with Latin music on them; her dad sent her huge care packages that she would share with the entire floor. We now laugh about the differences and bumps in the road we faced at first, but learning to get along with and understand people from very different backgrounds and lives was a priceless experience for me.
Very diverse in many ways, the group of friends I met my first year on the 4th floor of Claflin Hall has remained a close group. Years ago we decided we needed to write/text/talk and see each other more often, and more honestly, as we navigated our lives. This has made our friendship stronger and tighter in many ways; we have shared a great deal, including successes and challenges, and have gotten to know one another's spouses and children to a point where they are comfortable hanging out together.
I am 100% sure that my personal experience would have been very, very different had I not gone to a women's college. Even though the first year was an adjustment for me, in the end the all-female environment was perfect for a shy girl who rarely spoke in class in high school. The small classes, combined with the fact that the students were high-achieving, smart, interesting women, helped me to slowly start to find my voice. I am sure that because of my Wellesley experience, today my shyness has left me, my stage fright has mostly vanished, and my relationships with my female friends are deep and meaningful. Wellesley didn't do it all - but that's where it started. Wellesley built in us a certain self-esteem or confidence in "being" in the world.
I didn't automatically love Wellesley. When people ask me how I liked going there, I tell them that my first year was hard, the second year was better, the third year I went away for Junior year abroad, and by the time I come back I LOVED it. Being away gave me the perspective I needed. Every year since I graduated, I have appreciated the experience more. Besides, the campus is one of the most gorgeous I have seen.
As a teacher I encourage girls to think about applying to a women's college. Boys will always be around. Even at Wellesley, they could be seen around campus often. But a women's college experience can give them the opportunity to really focus on their interests and passion. I know it's not right for every young woman, but for this one, it was. Being at my 25th reunion confirmed that for me.