Later this week, I will travel to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend my fortieth reunion at Smith College. We only found out on March first that our reunion would be on campus rather than virtual, so a lot of direct preparation was done relatively quickly and closer to the event than in prior iterations.
One unexpected task that fell to me was updating our class website. I was lucky that it was built on the WordPress platform, although it was still using the classic rather than the block editor. Fortunately, I have been blogging long enough that I had experience with the older editor, although it did take a fair amount of reaching into my memory banks to resurrect some of the particulars. It was also good that there were templates in place from our reunion five years ago so that I didn’t have to build from scratch.
I am fortunate to live close enough to drive, so I didn’t have to worry about plane reservations. I did decide to come into town a day early to see some friends who live in the area before reunion begins. Due to pandemic protocols, the campus is not open to the public as it usually is, so it made sense to see friends before and then stay on campus exclusively once reunion begins.
All alums and guests had to prove they are vaccinated and boosted to register to attend. Many of the activities and meals will be held outdoors with masks in use for indoor events other than while eating and drinking. Campus will be very busy because our reunion coincides with commencement weekend this year, so the seniors and their guests, along with students who are participating in or working for the festivities and staff members, will be thronging the buildings and grounds. (It could be worse. All reunions used to be held on commencement weekend. Now, only some are with the rest happening the following weekend.)
I’m working on final preparations for packing. I have to remember to bring an all-white outfit for the Ivy Day parade and ceremony, one of the very-long-standing traditions of the College. I’ll need to be prepared for the changeable weather of a New England spring. I also need to be prepared to deal with my new orthodontia, which is causing more than a little anxiety.
The most fraught thing is trying to decide what to bring for one of our class events. We are having an open mic-style reading of things from our student days. I’ve known for months that this was planned but I was in no mood to look back that far. Our class theme is “Writing Our Next Chapter” and I would have much preferred looking forward, but I recently decided that I should look for something to add to the event.
B helped me excavate some of my old memorabilia boxes. To my shock, I found some papers going back to elementary school, including a poetry journal that I had thought was lost long ago. There were some high school papers, too. I read an interview assignment that a friend and I had done in journalism class our senior year. The bulk of the papers were from college, though. Note books from some of my most important classes. Music I had written for theory and composition classes. Yellow books for midterm exams and blue books for finals. Final papers carefully typed on corrasable bond.
I had hoped to find some of my letters but their whereabouts are still a mystery. I did, though, find the one notebook that I thought might have something from my college years worth sharing – a journal that I was assigned to keep as part of an adult psychology course I took the fall semester of my senior year.
The journal was designed to be self-reflective, as well as responding to course readings and discussions, so I thought I might find something personally substantive rather than just academic to share. Something that represented who I was at twenty-one. Something that would be authentic but not totally mortifying in hindsight.
And I did.
Before I go on, I should explain what that semester was like for me. I was taking adult psychology and a course on women and philosophy, an early foray into what eventually evolved into the women and gender studies department. I chose these courses in hopes of learning things that would be helpful to me in my life after graduation. I was also taking a seminar in music composition and preparing for my senior recital, a full-length organ program on stage at John M. Greene Hall. B and I were engaged and our wedding was already planned at Smith a few weeks after my commencement. I was very much in a preparatory mode for my future “adult” life.
And then, things happened.
There were two unexpected deaths in October. The first was a classmate who was killed in a plane accident over October break. The second was B’s grandfather, his last remaining grandparent. Then, at Thanksgiving in late November, B had a bad car accident, as in, his car wound up on its roof in an icy, but thankfully shallow, river. He wasn’t injured but we were both traumatized at how close he came to disaster.
So, here I am, forty-and-a-half years later reading this journal…
I was surprised by how astute I was in my analysis, by how much of what I consider to be my core identity now was already there. The high school interview I found in the memorabilia box described me as “serious”; my college friends would most likely have used that word, too. The advantage I have looking back now is that I can recognize the role of my level of introversion, my need to ponder extensively before I speak, my discomfort at speaking in groups, my penchant for wanting to understand and integrate everything, what I now recognize as the gifts of being an INFJ and an HSP but what I thought of then as traits I could change if I just tried hard and long enough.
I had forgotten how painfully aware I was of these things about myself and how I congratulated myself when I managed to cover them in social situations. Over the ensuing decades, I would get more practiced at this but my core has remained the same. Just in the last few years, when introversion has been more in public view with books like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I’ve come to understand that there isn’t any shame in being who I am. As I’ve weathered the final years of my parents’ lives and the pandemic, it’s become more evident to me that I need to take my inherent nature into account as I plan my “next chapters”. While there will always be some situations in which I need to make myself heard in a large group discussion or react quickly to an event, I will try to tailor most of my activities to play to my strengths and not waste energy on pretending to be someone who is outgoing and quick on my feet.
I am comforted by knowing that I had the same core at twenty-one that I have at sixty-one and that I understood more about myself at that age than I expected. I suppose that some people might be perturbed to discover such resonance with their younger selves, as though it meant that they hadn’t learned anything or grown over the decades. For me, though, I recognize that I have grown and changed and learned from my experience, all while staying true to my authentic core as a person.
I look at this journal now with what I hope are wiser eyes than the somewhat bleary ones of a college senior scrawling long-hand in a notebook, getting ready to graduate, marry, move to a new state, and deal with any number of unexpected things.
I hope I’m wise enough now to choose a passage to share at reunion that gives a sense of who I was then and still am today.