Thanks to Wendy Gao ‘09 (@WendyBikes) for this month’s submission!
For September, I would like to nominate Ali Barthwell. I haven’t met Ali personally, but I am consistently impressed with her eloquent posts on Wellesley’s numerous Facebook groups regarding feminism, fashion, relationships, and micro or macro aggressions concerning race. Ali’s article,”I DON’T KNOW HOW TO TALK TO WHITE PEOPLE ABOUT FERGUSON" on xo jane (a must read it if you haven’t already) was incredible, and I hope it inspires many fruitful and honest conversations on race between persons of color and non-POCs.
Know an awesome Wellesley alumna/alum? Nominate her or him for YAOTM here.
I downloaded the Kindle version of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt a few weeks ago to read on the train on my road trip. I had really enjoyed Tartt’s writing style in The Secret History with the vivid characters and captivating plot. It was the kind of writing that you stay up all night for and remember for years to come to poetic lyrical nature of it all. And so I went into reading The Goldfinch expecting something along those lines.
I started my education at Wellesley College with ambitious plans to be the next Cokie Roberts, or perhaps even Barbara Walters! At Wellesley we all seemed to mold our careers in the footsteps of a select few famous alumnae and those ended up being my selections. Despite offering a complete liberal arts education, it often seemed like your (successful and ambitious) career options were depressingly scarce. Most of my classmates seemed to lean towards Hillary or Madeline and immediately moved to Washington, D.C. soon after graduating. Me? Right after graduating I was still bent on becoming a renowned journalist and so I uprooted myself and moved to New York City with A Plan.
But, I soon found myself not liking The Plan. I didn’t like my job as a junior reporter, I didn’t like my work environment, and my extracurriculars didn’t provide adequate distraction. And so I decided to change course. A friend (an Olin graduate, interesting enough) referred me and helped me get my first job in tech at a company called HubSpot. I started as a Support Engineer and helped provide customer phone support on the HubSpot product.
And while this wasn’t exactly using my Sociology degree, I would say that Wellesley prepared me to adapt to anything thrown my way. I could tell you that it was my experience serving as Tech Director of WZLY or that the single Computer Science course that I took while at Wellesley was what set me up for success. But honestly, I think it’s something more nebulous than that. Because while those things look good on paper, they don’t really do anything for you in an interview. Instead, I’d stay it was the implicit sense of confidence and the excitement to learn that Wellesley instilled in me from the very beginning.
When I was at Wellesley, I used to call it the “gilded cage.” I, along with my partners-in-crime, would stand outside McAfee, and later Claflin, smoking our cigarettes, bitching about the amount of stress and the mundane this, that, and the other. In one sense I was excited to leave Wellesley. The bane of my existence was the damn requirements that we all “just had to do.” It was for our “benefit” to get a better understanding of the world and have a general knowledge of how to approach it. It was meant to raise awareness of what is out there and ensure that we could talk about anything to anyone if we needed to, even if for the sheer purpose of shifting topics. However, at the stubborn age of twenty-two, what started as, “Geology sounds fascinating!” turned into, “Professor, I’m an artist, when will I really need to differentiate between rocks and minerals?” These lines were embedded in my negotiation with my geology professor, Professor Hawkins, of making a movie about the twenty different minerals instead of taking the written exam. Needless to say, I had to take the exam like everyone else even if I didn’t like it. “Like many things in life,” he added.
The other side of Wellesley, the side that saved me, was the Art Department. I didn’t know what to expect from my first Art History class, which actually was a requirement too, but after the first lecture in the auditorium, I was hooked. To look at an image, take in what you can for yourself, and then be told a story that encompasses the history, culture, geography, economic trend, gossip… even pillow talk! Who needs requirements when we have art? I would spend days and nights between the drawing rooms, the editing suites and the media lab jumping from one project to the next; it was a time of inspiration. I was given the green light by all my professors and was constantly told by Professor Olsen, “just keep making art.” And I did. I didn’t know what was happening to me at the time, but looking back I realize that art was giving my soul the chance to breath.
I’m writing this review as a public service announcement. This book came out in 2000, but none of the overly friendly people on the subway who all insist they “LOVE Sarah Vowell” have heard of it. And while I responded diplomatically with, “Well, clearly you don’t love her like I do,” it seems a general announcement could be helpful.
For those of you unfamiliar with the “straight out of second grade” voice of Ms. Vowell, she’s usually spinning a yarn about being the sole AARP-less member of obscure American historic tours. She gets competitive with other tour attendees, and often expects docents to provide insight into why so many of our forefathers were assholes.
The use of the term “Community” in this piece is in reference to a Wellesley Alumnae Facebook group.
During my time at Wellesley, I gained and maintained a certain level of notoriety for my involvement in the improv group and shutting it down on the reg on First Class. I was witness to many epic First Class threads. I took on Wellesley’s defenders and deniers of white privilege and people who said incomprehensible things like “I don’t even see race.” I gave advice to my struggling peers about their boyfriends who didn’t know where their clitoris was. My private inbox would flood with messages of encouragement and further criticism. As the forums of First Class moved onto Facebook and other platforms after my graduation, these threads began to reappear and my participation continued.
As Wellesley alumnae, we are constantly striving to forge connections with our Wellesley siblings and support their lives, projects, and passions. Unfortunately, when it comes to discussions about race, that all goes out the window.
And I’m tired.