Reaching Common Ground

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.