Stories including Library

Vassar in the 1940s

Vassar 1945-1949. All women. What a wonderful four years! We were in love with the beautiful campus, and the professors were excellent and exciting – particularly Art and Anthropology for me. I remember great speakers and performers: John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Maya Deren, Joseph Campbell, George Gamow, Wanda Landowska. I was interested in writing but had the bad luck to have a teacher who didn’t seem to like women very much, and said openly there were no great women poets.

I was part of a very special joined class, ’48-’49. We entered together [for the 1945-46 school year], then ’48 went out in three years – the last class to accelerate. We sang all the time, after dinner, in the halls and at events, and still create wonderful reunion shows. Our 50th Reunion show, “The Hallelujah Chorus Line,” was set at the Pearly Gates for our 100th reunion. It was a very funny, full musical, performed in the Chapel for all reunion classes that day. A DVD is in the Library’s Special Collections. We were great friends and we’re still learning from each other at age 82.

We wore sweaters, cut-off jeans and men’s shirts – but skirts were obligatory for dinner.

I lived in Raymond, which was a lovely, diverse house. We laughed at the Gold Bobby Pin set (socialites) who lived in Josselyn. We had to deal with many rules about curfew, boys and alcohol (no one even knew about drugs.) It was the end of World War II, so we all worked, swept corridors, cleaned bathrooms, waited on tables and sat on [at the] message center – no phones in those days! It was important to do and also a way to meet people. We had no TV, no computers (just typewriters), no soda machines, no refrigerators or stoves – but we survived happily. We bicycled to the “Cider Mill” and hiked up to the apple orchard – where you could see the whole campus laid out below.

We loved to go up to the Pub for food and beer, and listen to the Weavers , Pete Seeger’s group that had just made the national charts. The serious drinkers went to the Dutch a few streets away. We ate in our dorms but Vassar food in wartime was quite poor, except on Sundays. I had a good laugh when I learned later about the Great Food Rebellion – just before they took Student’s Building away from us to create ACDC – when Cushing put all the evening’s “mystery meat,” in envelopes and mailed them off to the Director of Halls.

There was an unspoken expectation from the Vassar faculty that Vassar women would make a difference in our world, and we learned wonderful stories of Vassar women who had made important contributions in many areas. As we got older we also learned about our own classmates who had gone forth and helped transform their communities, or the world.

At home, it was clearly understood that young women were to marry as soon as possible, have children, and keep their husbands happy. If you worked it would be just a temporary job until you found the right man. So a lot of time was spent visiting men’s colleges, looking for this ideal man to please you and your parents. By the 1950s, more than a few of our class were miserable, isolated in the suburbs with children – and husbands who, paying for everything, felt they ‘owned’ them. This would set the stage for the Women’s Movement and the ‘60s revolutions: Sexual, Black and Gay. The only escape in the 1940s was graduate school, or being a ‘career woman’ (starting, of course, as a secretary).

Since transportation was limited, we tended to stay on campus on weekends. Student’s Building was ours and had a great stage so we did many plays. I learned more there and had much more fun than in the Drama Department, my major. These years became the era of the Great Musicals – full shows with terrific original scripts and songs – now archived in the Music Department and Special Collections of the Vassar College Library. I directed our Soph Party, a musical that was a feminist’s dream: the heroine loved the men presented to her, then said, ‘Thanks, but I want to wait and be a scientist first!’

The student government (I was president ’48-‘49) was a farce. Students had no power at all, but I think in those days we really didn’t care. The college was run by the President (Sarah Gibson Blanding), the Warden (now called Dean of Students), and the Financial Officer. There were many extracurricular activities, including religion, and politics (we had conservatives and some wonderful ‘Lefties’ on campus (pre-McCarthy)). We had two newspapers, the Miscellany News and the Chronicle – but the Misc was the smartest and most liberal. We had some excellent athletes who, sadly, were not valued either by us or by the college – later I learned they even had to pay their own way to events.

If you realized you loved women you lived in deep silence. ‘Gay’ hadn’t been invented then, I knew no one else like me, and there was no one to talk to. See my book, Wolf Girls at Vassar: Lesbian and Gay Experiences 1930-1990.

We had octet singing groups. The Night Owls were the best and always in demand to sing at men’s colleges. I remember one evening, as a freshman, I opened the door of the theater in Student’s Building. It was a cavernous room, and dark. There was one light on stage and the Night Owls were rehearsing. A magical moment with such beautiful women’s voices and harmonies!

I remember the night after graduation, sitting out under the great English Plane tree between the Library and Main, sad that it was all over. I’ve had a great life since and done most of the things I wanted to do, but Vassar will always be a special place and time.

The Fine Details of a Vassar Experience

I’ve learned a great deal of important and weighty things in my time at Vassar, but that’s to be expected. What I find far more interesting is the astounding number of absolutely trivial facts I’ve learned about life, myself, living in a community and Vassar. Here are some of my favorites:

Birds will always start singing at 4 a.m., no matter how much work you have left to do.

I can probably walk from the TAs to Main with my eyes closed, but I don’t want to test it. The TA bridge is indestructible…maybe.

Somebody should wash the dishes in the sink, but not me because I didn’t use any of them.

Cell phones are not allowed near Raymond Avenue when construction crews are dynamiting it.

Bacio’s is the most successful thing to ever occupy that spot on Collegeview. Staying “open until whenever” is a good business policy.

New England Building makes incredible noises between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m.

The golfers will insist on sharing their golf games with you at 9 a.m. on a Saturday by talking with each other very loudly outside your window.

Meteor showers are incredible.

Meteor showers are more incredible when you can hear dozens of your classmates sitting on the same golf course as you – but you can’t see a single one of them.

Somebody will always find a way to break the sound system at Matthew’s Mug.

The Mug used to have mirrored ceilings, nice decorations, and a sunken dance floor.

If you have an afternoon to kill after classes, going on a prospective-student tour of Vassar is a baffling, enjoyable experience.

The storm drain in the Aula parking lot will collapse and form a sinkhole every year. The TA stair platforms will collapse and form asphalt moats/ankle traps every year.

Preparing to throw a party is the quickest way to get your house clean.

Throwing a party is the quickest way for your toilet to end up in multiple pieces.

Bathroom graffiti in the Library can range from inspiring song lyrics to helpful conversations, but usually it’s just drawings of penises.

Totes, belig and cray were big in ’08.

When someone asks you for your ID number and says “999″ for you, you will never be able to remember the rest.

Hypermediation, globalized, neoliberal, heteronormative and most other words that will be featured in a thesis or essay title above the 100 level are not recognized by Microsoft Word.

It is possible to cite yourself in a paper: you wrote enough about the topic last semester.

Pulling an all-nighter with the rest of your class every other week is both an excellent and terrible bonding experience.

Disco fries are never the right choice (except when they are).

Moodle is an acronym for “Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.”

Always send duplicate jobs to VPrint.

Always know the location of the nearest four VPrint stations from any point on campus, just in case.

The phrase “Cisco Systems Web Authentication Redirect” will be burned into your mind after one semester.

There are secret walking trails in the forest behind Sunset Lake.

The Farm Oversight Committee is a shadowy organization that only appears when you want to throw a rave on the Farm.

Chili Wednesday isn’t always on a Wednesday.

The Retreat used to serve alcohol. More recently, the Retreat also used to serve energy drinks.

There are hidden staircases in the Library. Try to find all seven!

For my fellow outgoing seniors, I hope this trivia brings back fond memories of some of the wonderful quirks of Vassar. For those still attending, learn these well and add your own. Use your spare time to find places on campus you never knew existed. Enjoy every square inch.

Paul Noonan ’10 was the president of Vassar Teknowledgy (VT) and a member of The Limit sketch comedy troupe.

Open Mind

As of this writing, I have just turned in my second thesis. Normally students are happy to turn in their senior project; I am ecstatic. Now I can actually grasp the fact that my time at Vassar is ending. People always say that college graduation is a major point in your life. I think they are correct. I have learned so much during my time at Vassar and I will be sorry to leave.

I remember opening my acceptance letter to Vassar and thinking, “That’s where Jackie Onassis went!” I was thrilled to go to a school with a big name, beautiful landscape and amazing traditions. For some reason, I thought Vassar would be the finishing school that it used to be. Was I wrong…

My first few weeks at Vassar sped by. A few key moments stand out: the first time I saw a squirrel take a muffin up a tree, my first Nilda’s, the first sip of chocolate milk at the All Campus Dining Center, the first time I got lost in the basement of the library…As I realized I was finally away from home for good, I remember thinking “Why am I here? I don’t fit in. This is not what I signed up for.” Conservative me was terrified by the stark openness everyone exhibited. As I walked to class in makeup and heels, everywhere I turned I saw crazy outfits, Birkenstocks and sweatpants. Vassar was a long way from home. I was worried that I would lose myself in an effort to be politically correct and to fit in.

Looking back, I feel like I do fit in. Everyone seems to fit in. What I know now that I didn’t then is that it doesn’t matter how different you are. Vassar didn’t change, but I feel at home. I changed, and I changed for the better. Yes, I will always consider myself conservative on Vassar’s campus, but my mind is open to new possibilities. Vassar has taught me to appreciate the differences in new things, people and places. I am still my old self with the same morals, manners and confidence, but I am an improved version. Had I chosen to attend another school, I really do not know if I would be the same person that I am today.

College is supposed to be the most fun time of your life. After the days of cramming for exams, doing projects and reading countless books, I can leave Vassar knowing that I have also gained amazing friendships. Four years away from home would have been horrible without my friends. I only wish that they could all come with me after graduation. I can honestly say that I have learned as much from them as I have from my academic work. Leaving them will be just as difficult as leaving Vassar itself.

So as I accept my diploma, I will be happy that I made it through these past four years and came out a better person. I will be forever grateful for all of the help I received from faculty members and friends. I will be a Vassar College grad. Finally.

Developing a Hunger for the Arts

I came to Vassar planning to double-major in drama and political science, take the LSAT during my senior year, head to law school next fall and be a practicing attorney by the time I was 25. Along the way the poli-sci major fizzled to a passionless correlate (culminating in its complete dissolution courtesy of the Registrar’s office last week), I took no LSATS, applied to no law schools, and am graduating with a bachelor’s degree in drama with no real life plan other than financial instability and artistic uncertainty. And I couldn’t be happier.

Such is the beauty of my Vassar education. I have been taught that what’s most important is for me to be able to look into the mirror each morning-at my bald head, grizzly beard, and (very, very cute) dimples-and be proud of the choices I have made. I have been taught to value passion over wealth and, as difficult as it might be to cope with the thought that I will never own a penthouse in lower-Manhattan, I’ve been sure to befriend a few econ majors along the way.

At Vassar I’ve had the opportunity to try many things: student government, carnival rides, star-gazing, math classes, dancing, writing long papers, Jesus’s chili, to name several. I’ve realized that, though I like to do many things, there are only two things in the world that I love: food and theater. From winning the Big Sauce Challenge freshman year (and the odd combination of pride and embarrassment that came with seeing “Nate Silver Sauce” as a special in the Retreat), to chairing the Food Committee and helping the Aramark’s Chinese guest chefs make noodles my sophomore year, to writing a weekly food column for The Miscellany News and launching my very own catering company this fall, my College experience was fundamental in harnessing my passion for cooking.

Falling in love with theater was unexpected, or at least, the extent to which I have made it a part of my life is. I came to theater relatively late in life, not having been in a play until I was 16, and though finding a college with a great theater program was part of my college search, it was not the most important factor. Twelve plays later I must say that theater has defined my college experience. I was told I had limited space for this retrospective, so after contemplating how I could say all the things I want to say to the Vassar Drama Department in this column (my idea to write this whole thing in size 7.5 font didn’t fly), let me just say this: I have never worked harder, failed more miserably, been more proud or strived to be a better person more than I have under your guidance. I am grateful for every second I have spent in the Center for Drama and Film, and though I will miss Sunset Lake, the Library lawn and the outdoor amphitheater, it is on the floor of the drama building that my feet will have the hardest time getting used to not being.

Sentimentality aside, what Vassar has truly prepared me for is to begin a life beyond its walls. I have been given the tools I need, an unbreakable support structure if I fail, and a beautiful community of intellectuals to return to when I’m ready. Though the future remains delightfully uncertain, my Vassar education is my empowerment and, at least for now, when I look into the mirror each morning, I am proud of the man this college has made me.

The Eight Semester Experiment

I’m sitting at the long center table on the right side of the Library in the middle of finals week. Within the past two days here, I’ve witnessed stress and exhaustion-induced craziness ranging from Red Bull chugging contests to a capella concerts, with a little bit of studying squeezed in between. I could recite all of the selling points of this space that I’ve ingrained into my memory from years as a tour guide, such as the Gothic-style architecture, the Flemish tapestries or the stained glass portrait of Lady Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. However, these facts definitely don’t convey to prospective students the atmosphere in the Library during finals, just like it’s impossible to truly know Vassar until you get here and experience it for yourself.

As the first person from my high school to attend Vassar in several years, I had no idea what to expect. I’d already mentally prepared myself for the frigid winters and had decided early that I would use my Southern charm to make new friends, since I knew absolutely nobody. Although I had told everyone in Nashville that I couldn’t wait for a “fresh start,” I worried, as move-in day crept closer, that I had gone a little too far with this decision.

Four years later, I couldn’t be happier. I honestly believe that my “why not?” attitude from freshman year has shaped my Vassar experience in the best ways possible. I remember impulsively deciding to run for freshman class secretary within the first weeks of school for the sole reason of meeting new people. When I won, I had unknowingly discovered an activity that would follow me throughout most of my Vassar career. The Vassar Student Association (VSA) was the ideal outlet for someone like me who wanted to be involved in every part of campus life. Whether it’s the Committee on College Life, Drug and Alcohol Education Committee or the Judicial Board, if you have an opinion here, there are plenty of outlets to make yourself heard.

I remember at the end of freshman year (clearly still riding high from first-year-of-college enthusiasm) Selina, Lucy and I decided to start a style magazine at Vassar in hopes of celebrating the cool, eclectic and creative students here. We clearly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, having no magazine experience whatsoever and even less authority on “style.” I just remember standing in front of the VSA budget meeting, as a meek little freshmen, telling the Executive Board that we needed a budget of “approximately $30,000″ in order to start our magazine. We could hear the group laughing at us before we even shut the door to the meeting room. Despite minor setbacks such as this one, my “why not?” attitude from freshman year is still going strong.

After eight semesters here, I’ve found that this mentality is inherent in every Vassar student and has seeped into almost every aspect of life here. Whether it’s taking 100 level art history classes your senior year, exchanging your Thursday Dutch routine for Late Night at the Loeb or taking a day to check out the Dia Beacon, exploration and experimentation are defining factors at Vassar. Sometimes it takes stepping outside of the College’s gates to really appreciate the value of the Vassar experience.

In my TH, we have a poster hanging in our kitchen that says, “Nobody wishes they got more sleep in college.” While this may sound crazy-who at Vassar consistently feels well-rested, anyway?-it really does ring true. Looking back on my college experience, it’s the nighttime chats with friends, the hours-long procrastination sessions at the ACDC, and the random daily occurrences that shape a college experience. Although the classroom lectures and discussions are great for intellectual development, four years at Vassar constitutes much more than that. So even though everyone sitting in the Library with me has tons of work to do, I’m glad we are all able to take a little break and appreciate the Redbull contests and musical entertainment that I know we’ll miss very soon.

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