A Question That Changed My Life

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.

Exploring Transfer

I know both the old and the new Vassar very well. I am a member of the class of ’68, the mother of two Vassar alums (Aurora ’97, and Cody ’99), the great-niece of Concetta Scaravaglione, who taught studio art (sculpture) at Vassar for many years, and the sister of Patrice Scarvalone ’73.

This summer, I was on the faculty of Exploring Transfer, a program designed to help community college students from colleges around the nation to adapt to and be introduced to the rigors of a four-year college, such as Vassar. Because I have been a community college teacher for many years, I welcomed this chance to introduce students to the joys of research, reading books, writing analytic essays, and, most importantly, to the rigors of digging deeply and doing some critical thinking.

At the introduction ceremony, I related my personal benefits from my own education at Vassar: the need to research and look things up when I was unsure of the answer (and to question authority); and the desire to be a life-long learner, always curious about the world. These qualities have surely helped me throughout my life, no matter what I have been doing, and I am so grateful to Vassar and to my education for helping me realize such important lessons.

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