by Antoinette Chwastyk Wills, Class of 1968
I was a history major at Vassar, and took all the courses I could—American history, Russian and Chinese history, European history. Because I was the first generation in my family to go to college, I didn’t know what kind of career I might have beyond Vassar. I didn’t know how good a student I was. I just loved to learn.
I was in the honors history seminar senior year, and Evalyn Clark was advising me on my thesis. One day during our regular meeting she asked, “Where are you going to graduate school?”
I replied that I wasn’t going to graduate school; I was getting married.
She asked, “What difference does that make?”
That single question changed the course of my life. I did get married, and I did go to graduate school. I completed my Ph.D. with a dissertation on the French Revolution, a subject I first studied in Clark’s course at Vassar.
The academic job market was glutted by the time I finished my degree, so I never had the scholarly career I aspired to. But I never regretted going to graduate school, and I have always been grateful to Miss Clark for changing my life with her question.
by Kyle Chea, Cass of 2010
Sitting on the Hudson River one morning, watching the sun ignite the changing leaves that covered the hills flanking the river, hearing the bubbles underneath my boat, the soft splash of oars entering the water together is one of my favorite memories at Vassar. When I came to Vassar in the rainy fall of 2006, I never imagined that I would be on the rowing team, let alone be a co-captain. I was not an athlete. I had failed miserably at team sports in physical education classes. The story of how I came to row at Vassar follows the same narrative line as many other experiences, such as how I decided to be a history and Chinese double major, how I became involved in the ALANA Center, how I began to work at the Office of Admissions. These unforgettable experiences were not planned, were not really by chance, but really they were unexpected.
I think back on all the things I was supposed to be and all the expectations I came to college carrying in the back of my mind, and I have shed every last one, except for maybe being a pretty diligent student. I am not pre-med. I will not be an hepatic surgeon, and when my parents’ friends ask what I’m doing with my life, they will be able to laugh nervously just like me. But thinking back on all the opportunities and experiences I have been afforded at Vassar, even if by accident, I have loved each and every one.
Getting my ankle sprained at rugby practice early freshman year gave my friends and I the opportunity to eat “just add water and microwave” Indian food that a friend had brought in a suitcase from home. I ran naked into the Library with those same friends, past the desks where we slaved for hours at a time on history theses, anxiously waiting for the day to turn them in. Being dragged to the Kenyon Hall erg room one wintry morning brought the weirdest and most fun people I know into my life. We sweat together, grunt together, struggle together and laugh together.
The ALANA Center has been a place of community and safety. There, when I needed a piece of home, when I needed a shoulder to cry on, when I needed somebody to vent to or when I was just frustrated at dealing with everything that is race, ignorance, privilege and identity, I was sure to find a brother or a sister to contemplate with. I never really questioned any of these things until I came to Vassar, and the realization that I had to deal with them was sprung on me, once again, unexpectedly. Lost and reeling for something to make sense of all these questions that had suddenly assaulted me, I found shelter in the friends I had made through my ALANA connections. The journeys we have taken and the questions we have asked are all experiences that render you to me, and I will never forget them.
For me, Vassar is a place where the unplanned and the accidental can blow you off your original course to a place more wonderful than you could ever have imagined, or dared to imagine. I will miss this big safety net where dreams can be dreamed and risks can be taken, cognizant that failure is a huge possibility, but they are encouraged to be taken anyway. For my classmates, let us continue to dare to dream like we’re still here, for no matter where we go, our Vassar family will always be somewhere nearby. For the underclassmen, dare to be crazy. Use the quiet of the library to hatch a plan for something totally ludicrous, and follow through, no matter how ridiculous it may seem. I am sad to leave this place where I have learned to think until I dream and laugh until I cry, but I am excited to see what I may stumble upon next.