by Amy Wiener Paris, Class of 1978
In the early 1920s, my grandmother came to the United States from Warsaw to study at Hunter College. She grew up in a large family that valued education, many of whom were educators themselves. One of her sisters was already here and a brother followed, but most of her family perished at the hands of the Nazis some years later.
The connection with Vassar is this: my grandmother was a housewife with a lively intellect, and an independent thinker. She looked after her family, cooked, cleaned, and tended her garden. She stayed connected to the world as a reader of literature and newspapers, as a theatergoer, and as a member of several reading groups and women’s philanthropic organizations. She was both grounded in family and community, and intellectually driven. And her phone call one evening as I was filling in my various applications to colleges had far reaching effects.
“Have you considered Vassar?” she asked me. I hadn’t. But she wasn’t a meddler, my grandmother, so I listened carefully as she gave me her impressions of a place that valued independent thinking and that wasn’t averse to breaking norms in a challenging and true intellectual environment.
These many years later I fully appreciate that of all of the colleges that might have appealed to my grandmother’s sense of where a young woman might thrive, Vassar would sing to her as the right place for me. She was a brave young girl, traveling halfway across the world on her own, with only scant book learning of English, to study in America. She became a responsible wife and mother, reflective and nurturing and always attuned to the latest trends in nutrition (although I don’t think my uncle enjoyed the pre-fab vegetable patties called “protose” that she tried to convince him were hamburgers). An avid reader, she enjoyed gathering groups together in her home to discuss books. And she gave to others, both as a caretaker in the family and as a donor of time and money to charitable causes. She was a modern woman in her day, always feeding her intellectual curiosity even as she literally and figuratively nourished those around her.
I owe my rich and beautiful college experience, with all of the skills, new areas of discovery, and the lifelong friendships that came with it, to my witty and wonderful grandmother, who brought Vassar to my attention. That’s the kind of legacy that is so very consistent with a Vassar education.