by Lillian Bowen, class of 1902 (left Vassar after one year)
Main was a fine large building of five stories. It had long wide corridors, three lofty reception rooms, a huge dining room, above which was the Chapel with a splendid organ, and a gallery where the poor little Freshmen had to sit! There were wide flights of stone stairs with iron banisters and a lift, large enough to take twenty five of us at once. This lift was most welcome and most used by those of us who lived aloft.
The large reception rooms on the ground floor were allotted to their special uses. From time immemorial, goodness knows how it started, tradition and custom allocated the first of these rooms, the one nearest the entrance, for business purposes, such as girls applying for entrance, visiting parents, etc. The second room was for more intimate visits: appointments or pleasant little rendezvous perhaps. The third was, exclusively, for engaged couples! All three rooms had large unglazed windows looking out onto the corridor, along which, of course, girls were constantly passing, and as they passed could look in. There were some seats, however, especially in the third room, where one could be a little more sheltered, but, even in those, one felt very public. This tradition, had of course, been handed down to me, as to all the Freshmen, but I had only given it slight attention as it was far from my intention to ever patronise the third room.
Now, it transpired one day, a visiting card was brought up to me—the card of a young Columbia University man whom I had met in New York. He was a good looking lad and I had visited him with Agnes at his mother’s flat in Hoboken. He had always threatened to call on me at college, so I was delighted that he had come. I hurried down to the reception rooms. He was not in the first; somewhat perturbed, I looked for him in the second, he was not there! Aghast, I entered the third room. There he was, as large as life, sitting in the very place where he could be seen from all points!! My heart missed a beat—of course we should be seen and then the fat would be in the fire! I could not, of course, tell the man what the trouble was. Sitting on pins and needles, I cast about for some means of getting him into the proper room, while out of the corner of my eye, I saw some of the girls passing outside, stop and look, then with eyes, at first popping out of their heads with astonishment, then dancing with glee and mischief, hurry on to spread the news! There was no escape, so I just brazenly faced the music and went on chatting while my cheeks burned! When I said good-bye to my visitor, I turned from the door to face a row of naughty, mischievous and inquisitive girls to whom there was no use trying to explain the affair. I never heard the end of it and was often asked tenderly how my fiancé was.
by DeAnna Wynn, Class of 1991
Main Dorm, Afternoon Tea, Greedless, Founder’s Day, catwalk on the roof of Main, Mug lines, Primal Scream, ACDC, Trouble Funk at Sunset Lake, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tribe Called Quest in ACDC, The Rollins Band, Vassar Angels, Vassar Devils, Alumnae House, ICC, Jessie Jackson at the 1991 Baccalaureate Ceremony, serenading, bonfire, Frisbee, skateboards, Beastie Boys, parties at West Point, road trips to Manhattan, Metro-North, The River Café, Cooper House, the TAs & THs, Napoli’s Pizza, Pete’s, the Acropolis, Mythology in New England building, Dante in Rocky, Drama with Dr. Berkeley, dancing in the Aula, the 24-hour room in the library, Town Student’s Lounge, classes at Sunset Lake with Norman Hodges, the purple tree in the Quad, ice cream in the Retreat.
by Karen Roberts Turner, Class of 1986
When I reflect back on my days at Vassar, the snapshots that most immediately come to my mind include the prospectus, “Your Mind Our Matter”, Serenading, Vassar Devils, White Angels (Mrs. M and Mrs. Whalen were the best), the Noyes Bonfire, Primal Scream, the best single rooms in Strong, watching “Dynasty” and ordering Napoli’s Pizza on Friday Night (and it never took “half an hour”), parties in the ICC with the West Pointers, Trouble Funk at Sunset Lake, cookies and cream milkshakes from the Retreat, Daisy Chain, tea in Main, Ntozake Shange, Michael Manley, Jim Lehrer, Garry Trudeau, and Meryl Streep, the bus trip to Broadway to see “Dream Girls,” table cloths and steak in ACDC for Parent’s Weekend, the Mug Dance, Rocky Horror, going to the Harvard-Yale game and the Black Student Union after-party, basketball games at Marist, Biology labs, having to go to the library to use a computer, Students’ Afro-American Society meetings and the uprising caused by The Misc., the beautiful trees in the Quad, raising our voices against Apartheid and to “Free Mandela,” spending Junior Year at Spelman, forming friendships that have lasted a lifetime, and developing a mind strong enough to change the world!
by Jacqueline Kory, Class of 2011
I sit by the glass pane in my room, my bed lofted up to window-seat status. The late afternoon sunshine sends long shadows across the central TA quad, grass sliced by dark grey pavement paths and thin strips of light that make it past the apartments in the west. Most of the trees are bare-limbed yet; I’m still not used to the long winters, keeping the popcorn of apricot flowers at bay until well into April. I can see an evergreen or two from here; I saw turtles in the Casperkill yesterday, and my housemate exclaimed over a robin hopping down one of those paths just this morning.
If spring is only now tip-toeing out into the open, with warmer breezes and longer days, why does summer feel so close?
The past few weeks have been full of endings. My last end-of-season meetings, evaluations, and dinners with the fencing team. Writing the last pages of my senior thesis. Ignoring the emails about preregistration, housing draw, and next year.
I have a plaque propped up at the front of my cube-box bookcase: “Vassar College Women’s Fencing Team, Captain 2010-2011.” Is that really what all this time comes down to? A plaque, a pile of textbooks, a sense of nostalgia now that it’s almost over?
I pulled out a new notebook today. Some people measure their lives in chapters, or by photo albums and video clips. Sometimes, I think I measure mine in journals. Today, it felt wrong to keep on in the old notebook, plastic pink cover and pages three-quarters filled, loose sheets of notes slid in the back and beneath the front cover, a notebook I bought in an office supply store in Sydney, Australia, for one of the classes I took there (and later re-appropriated). It was a college notebook: wide lined pages, a spot at the top for a six-digit date, perforated pages and a cut-out slot on the cover for storing a pen. It was a journal of uncertainty; it held the worries, fears, and dreams of a student far away from the familiar. It held beginnings, endings, reconciliations, the wonder of realizations and the hope that every next step would be just as exciting, thrilling, amazing.
I pulled out a new notebook today, fished it from the big plastic storage bins under my bed, and when I opened it, a silver piece of foil fell out. It had been tucked just inside the front cover, a Dove chocolate wrapper, the kind with little inspirational quotes printed on them. It said, “It’s never too late for a fresh start.”
This, it’s a notebook for the start of whatever happens next.
With summer coming fast, I’m paying more attention than I ever did to all the little things around me that I love about Vassar. The green floor in Walker Bay 5, where I’ve spent more hours than I’ll ever count training with the fencing team. The way a sunset looks across Ballantine field. The sound of monkeys calling “boo-a-woop!” from distant parts of campus, with similar cries echoing in return. Even the weird patterns painted on the ceiling in Main’s front lobby — have you ever looked up at them?
Four years of my life.
Seven semesters and two summers at Vassar. One semester abroad. One summer in Virginia.
People. The adventures we dreamt up. Favorite haunts, favorite classes, clubs and sports, lectures and workshops.
So many moments. All it takes is one miniscule event — a flip of bits, a neuron firing, a butterfly’s wings in South America — to start a change.
Taking Introduction to Cognitive Science with Ken Livingston freshman year. I took it because I’d read a book on consciousness, because when I’d read a book about dreaming I found out that no one really knows what goes in our heads, because I realized there’s still more to learn, and I’m nothing if not fascinated by the unknown. The final paper in that class was to pick a chapter of Paul Thagard’s Hot Thought, in which he presented models of emotional cognition and applied them to just about everything (one phenomenon per chapter), and elaborate on it. I picked the chapter on the emotional coherence of religion. After reading those twenty-two pages, I realized I’d never learned how to bullshit a paper, and thus, that I knew far too little on the subject to even scrabble together a rough draft. I promptly checked out a huge stack of books on cognition and religion from the library. I supplemented these with a whole bunch of PDFs from journal databases online. I remember my roommates being a little confused, or maybe concerned, at the amount of effort I put into that paper.
I remember, mostly, being absolutely certain that I had to keep reading if I wanted to know enough to write a good paper on the emotional coherence of religion.
I declared myself a cog sci major early sophomore year.
Some moments were mundane: Laughing at the “Dead End” sign hung up on the end of Collegeview Ave where the road met the cemetery. Taking photos of the magnolias in bloom. Staring up at little flakes of snow, floating down in front of a street light. Chasing after womp-womps and squirrels and deer.
Simple long-lasting jokes. One came out of the very first cog sci program party I attended. I was a freshman; I didn’t know anyone and I was one of maybe two freshman there—everyone else was familiar with the lay of the Kenyon Club Room, its lack (and great need) of a giant moose head hanging over the fireplace, the fact that Gwen Broude always brought cookies and Ken Livingston always brought thick-crust pizza from Uno’s. I was introduced: “Hi, have you met Jackie?” I was re-introduced: “Hi, have you met Jackie?” and re-introduced again, enough times that it became a thing. Every cog sci party thereafter, this particular group of 2010s and 2009s reintroduced me to each other.
Some moments defined the rest of my college career.
Sitting cross-legged in an armchair in the Kenyon Club Room. I was wearing a bright orange skirt. The cog sci faculty had just had a debate on consciousness, and I hadn’t stood up to leave yet. Ken Livingston asking me whether I’d like to be one of his URSI students for the summer.
Exchanging emails with a friend over my first URSI summer: trading book recommendations, discussing relationships and research and brains. Returning to campus: “Would you mind terribly if I kissed you?” Meeting another new friend as a result of Vassar, back home before the start of another semester.
Sophomore year was an awesomely social year, full of exciting people.
Backstage waiting for the far-too-familiar opening music of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. An airplane to Colorado for the Grace Hopper Celebration. The trek between Main and Cushing, the tower room where my friends and I gathered for homework parties.
Sophomore year was the year I didn’t spend Thanksgiving with my family. I’m from across the country; that break is short in comparison to the amount of traveling. A senior on the fencing team invited a couple of us far-from-home friends over for the holiday—he spent time growing up in Australia, and one of his friends was Australian. The other girl was Greek. I was the only American tagging along on the adventure.
Deciding, after that, (with a scant week until the application deadline) that I wanted to go abroad.
Late nights in the IRRL. One Thursday, when my robot competition team’s microcontroller fried and we spent the night frantically Googling possible fixes.
Papers and books and highlighters spread out across a dorm room floor, three of us staying up past 2:00am pounding out the last pages of our ant papers.
Evenings in the Main kitchen, making macaroni and cheese or curry or trays of almond cookies.
A second URSI summer, cut short because the Australian semester starts at the end of July.
Many moments were at Vassar, but not all. One fine spring night in early November, I ate at a Turkish place in Newtown, Sydney with some of my international friends. Australian, Filipino, Japanese, Mexican, Russian. One of them handed me a U.S. penny, saying, ‘Here, a little taste of home.’
Tuesday morning Coffee and Cakes in Sydney, standing in the grass by a table of orange juice and tea and cookies, chatting with the rest of the Unimates. Knowing that when any of us traveled the world, we would have friends in nearly any country we visited.
A summer in Virginia. Showing my badge every morning to get into NASA Langley, working in an air-conditioned building-inside-a-building. Quadcopters, open source flight simulators, the Parking Lot Exploration Rover, a pirate festival, Wednesday evening volleyball, roller coasters and fireworks.
Back at Vassar, senior year, I was utterly delighted that I had to buy fourteen plus books for my cog sci and computer science classes. The first day of the Things in Context seminar, Gwen Broude announced that everything is context and context is everything, and how it was hard to teach a class on everything, but she’d try. I’ll forever look at the world as a dynamic system, in terms of context and embodiment, in terms of correlated sensorimotor and subjective experience.
Long hours in the Neuroscan Lab, re-dubbed the EGI lab after the equipment got replaced, typing line after line of text for our stimulus set or squeezing in another participant run. Wanting clean data and results out of that EEG study; finally re-running the whole thing nearly two years later.
Some moments were about my life as a cog sci major, but not all.
Swinging an axe at a candy-filled computer hanging from a tree; laughing as all the computer scientists ran to scoop up tootsie rolls and jolly ranchers.
Turning down invitations to dances and parties, hours spent at my laptop or in the OLB computer lab, trying to finish assignments before the weekend’s fencing meets.
Playing Frisbee in the parking lot outside Walker. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The morning the bus broke down, 5:00am and probably negative degrees outside. The van safety course, and the nutritionist. My fencing girls, making up new lyrics to currently popular songs: “We’re on a bus!” “All the sabre ladies…” “Just fence!”
Making history. Singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” on the way back from Wellesley: the Vassar Women’s Fencing team won our conference for the first time ever. Ice cream socials and picnics on graduation hill.
So many moments. So many memories.
Realizing, again and again, that there’s just enough time to know that there’s never, never enough time.
As I write this, middle of April, glass pane separating me from the sunlight and the squirrels bouncing through the grass, I hold a new notebook in my hands. It’s white and periwinkle-blue, bound by a silver spiral. A photo is printed on the front in grayscale, framed by thick blue lines: a man silhouetted at the end of a wooden pier, staring out across a shining ocean. He can see the horizon, I think. Below the photo are written the words, “Build a dream and the dream will build you.”
This, it’s a notebook for the start of whatever happens next.
I loved my time at Vassar. It’ll take a long time for these patterns of neural activity to fade.
by Geraldine Laybourne, Class of 1969
“You have to talk to the Dru (Dean Drouilhet), if you want to run, your grades are too low.”
I knew I was in trouble…I had had a rough entry into Vassar. My older sister E.D. was a junior and had a fun group of friends. I tried to keep up with them, but let my grades suffer. I wasn’t connecting to the substance of Vassar. I knew that I was my best when I was signed up to do more than I could handle—I needed to plug into something positive where I could make a contribution in order to get myself back on track.
I made my appointment and I must say at the appointed time… I was skinny enough then that my knees actually knocked in her waiting area. She looked at me in that way she mastered—with those eyes that said “this is going to be a good one.” I presented my case.
“I need to do this to get myself back to the person I know I am. When I am busy, I am happy and I perform. If you let me run, I promise I’ll get my grades up.” (I might have said straight A’s.) I ran, I won, I got connected to my college, my courses, my teachers, my dorm, my grades. Eventually I graduated magna.
But here is the interesting part. I made a promise that I kept and the Dru noticed. She kept track of me. And when there was an opportunity in my senior year to appoint a student representative to the Master Planning committee that worked on the transformation of Vassar to a coed institution, she picked me.
I chaired the Student Center sub-committee and the Dru sat on the committee along with architects, teachers and another student. That was heady for me and taught me that I wanted to lead and that I could corral a group of diverse people. I call it my business school education.
I am grateful for my Vassar education everyday: it taught me how to question everything, to have my own ideas, to stay engaged and to be collaborative with purpose.