by Caitlin Ly, Class of 2010
How do you sum up four years in so many words? It is impossible. After countless hours with friends and teammates, professors and administrators, what I have come to appreciate most about my Vassar education is how I have been challenged to rethink my core beliefs and basic assumptions about the world.
The Vassar of my imagination was loud and liberal. As a prospective student, certain “Vassar traits” immediately stood out to me: Vassar students love to walk around campus barefoot, Vassar professors like to be called by their first names, not their last, and Vassar coaches love to showcase the accomplishments of their teams. I think I surprised my parents when I chose to apply early decision to Vassar over some other top-ranked liberal arts colleges because I am pretty quiet, I like to wear shoes (or at least flip-flops), and I prefer to address professors by their last names. Perhaps not the most “conventional” Vassar student, I nevertheless found my place at this school.
Driving through Main Gate in the fall of 2006, I knew I had a lot to learn here and an ocean of opportunities to choose from. The best and fastest way to get acclimated to a new environment is to get involved. So that is exactly what I did. Beginning my freshman year, I committed time and energy to Vassar athletics as a tri-sport athlete in volleyball, squash and rowing, and to the Vassar Student Association (VSA) as class vice president and VSA president. I stretched myself to my limits trying to find time to balance class work, athletics and student government. I traded countless hours of sleep for late night meetings, early morning practices and weekend tournaments off-campus. And I am still not ready to leave.
Thinking back on the last four years, a few moments definitively stand out in my memory: climbing a 75-foot ropes course in Virginia with the volleyball team and coming one step closer to overcoming my fear of heights, winning the VSA presidential election and looking forward to a year of progress, exploring the ice caves at Mohonk during senior week last year, attending candlelit After Hours concerts in the Aula and competing in my last varsity athletics tournament at the national squash championships at Yale University.
The time I’ve spent on the court, in the office and in the dorms have come to define my Vassar experience, almost, if not more than, my time in class. On a more personal level, my term as VSA president has been rewarding, despite the many difficulties that came with the position. I learned how to communicate calmly and effectively, how to listen to different perspectives with an open mind, and how to negotiate and compromise. I am proud that my initiative to grant athletic credit to varsity athletes passed and will be enacted next fall. This is evidence attesting to the fact that incremental change can be accomplished at this institution to better the lives of students, faculty and staff.
In being challenged to rethink my core beliefs, I have learned practical life skills that I will carry with me to law school next year and through life afterwards. As I prepare to move on into a new chapter of my life, my dear alma mater will be close to my heart and always in my mind.
by Alyssa Alcasabas Pabalan, Class of 2010
Over the past four years, I have learned, experienced and felt so much that I don’t know where to start; I’m also not eloquent enough to put it all together in a beautifully written essay. So I thought I’d take your “goals for every student” from the catalogue-because I’m probably one of the few people that actually read the front part-and use it as an exit checklist. Here goes!
1. “Achievement of depth and range of knowledge in a single discipline or in a subject approached through several disciplines.”
Okay, I’ll agree with that. I came in with the intention of being a biology major, declared the first week of sophomore year and never looked back. Sure, I tried to see if there was anything else I felt as passionate about-astronomy, education, psychology, music, languages-but I just couldn’t find anything. Thank you for letting me pursue a well-rounded education; I can now go, “Ha!” at universities that have a dozen or so requirements for their students. My love for the Vassar curriculum is mainly due to the amazing faculty employed at the institution. Most, if not all, of my professors, have been so excited about their area of study and so eager to share not only their academic knowledge, but also their life experiences, with their students. Being at a small school allows these relationships and truly does motivate you within the classroom.
2. “Recognition of the different kinds of knowledge and their scope and relevance to one another…[such as] between people and their social and physical environment.”
Oh, Vassar. When I first drove through Main Gate that rainy Sunday, little did I know that the terms “heteronormative,” “awkward,” “gender-neutral” and “Nilda” would become integral parts of my vocabulary. Or that skinny jeans and flannel would become integrals parts of my wardrobe. (Well, not mine, but other people’s. You know who you are.) As for the physical environment, little did I know that finding people running/walking naked through the Library was acceptable, and even expected, twice a year. Or that where one lived on-campus carried an incredibly high degree of house pride (GO STRONG!) and house stigma, and that one contributed to it whether one was aware of it or not.
3. “Immediate experience of creative ideas, works of art and scientific discoveries.”
Definitely got my dose of all three, even if didn’t understand what was going on (which, as an extremely creatively challenged person, was most of the time when it came experiencing the first two). I’ll freely admit that I’ve sat through plays and stood in front of works of art, not really getting the artist’s “message,” but I came to appreciate the time, energy and love that went into it. Hey, I find beauty in a good recrystallization, so to each their own.
4. “Development of the powers of reason and imagination through the processes of analysis and synthesis.”
I’ve learned that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, and that I don’t have to agree! You know how in high school, it was “cool” to go with the majority (even if that meant thinking Edward Cullen was the hottest thing on the face of the planet)? Here, I could tell someone that I completely disagreed with something they said (and counter with something like, “I think Jacob Black is the hottest thing on the face of the planet”), back it up (“Edward sparkles like a girly-man; how is that hot?”), and continue in an intellectually stimulating debate (“Whatever, Bella doesn’t deserve either of them, she’s just an angsty whiner”) without fear of being labeled “uncool.” Being at a liberal school really does force you, for better or worse, to open up your mind to all possibilities pertaining to life, and I’ve come to appreciate how my mind has changed since freshman year.
So, Vassar, you’ve done good. I knew you wouldn’t let me down (just like my parents, who never cease to tell me how my four years better have been worth every penny, knew you wouldn’t). You’ve introduced me to some of the most amazing people I know and who I can’t imagine my life without, and opened up my mind in so many different ways that it would be hard to quantify. You’ve helped me grow into an independent and confident person, ready to take on the world. Well, not the real one-the medical school one. Real world, get ready. I shall take you on in about four years, up to my eyeballs in student loans and lost hours of sleep. Because if there’s anything Vassar has taught me, it is to never be afraid of taking on challenges, even if you have no idea how you’re going to do it.