20 years ago, there was a three week period that would change my life in remarkable ways. I graduated from Smith College, a place that taught me how to grow into my authentic self, and I got married, the first decision on a tree that has informed every choice since. Every big anniversary of that time in 1995 makes me thoughtful. Ok, more thoughtful even than usual. How have I grown in those years? I am living up to my promise? Do I bring enough joy to the world to offset the inevitable pain? How am I contributing as a woman, as a wife, as a mother? If I could talk to that woman of 22, what would she think of her 42-year old self? Would she be satisfied or disappointed?
Part 1 – Thoughts on being “a Smithie”
I don’t think it is possible to be a Smithie and not think about whether or not you are enough. The tag line for their current alumnae giving campaign is “Women for the World” — they say for the world and they mean it. I’m not sure that when I headed off to Northampton that I understood that, but I think I did when I finished. During my three years there (like many I spent my junior year away to get new perspective) I found myself both buoyed and awed. Within the Grecourt Gates I wasn’t the smartest person in the room. Or the most driven. There I was just one of 2,500 women, and I knew that the other 2,499 were going to go out into the world and kick ass.
When I got to Smith in 1991, I was incredibly excited — more excited than my normal ambient level of excited, which is pretty high. I ran around unpacking the esssence of Mel for anyone to hear — anyone who would listen. (My sophomore roommate tells of meeting me, “I knew more about you in 15 minutes than I knew about most people I had known my whole life.”) I was so excited to be starting over in a new place without 18 years of insecurity weighing me down. I wanted to be my authentic self in a place where my authentic self would be good.
And Smith was that place. I thrived. I loved the people, the environment, the classes. I got involved in theatre and felt like part of a community. I connected with the women I lived with in my quirky century-old house. My classes were engaging and thought provoking. It was everything I had wanted.
The hardest part was that I just wasn’t good enough. I learned quickly that what got me A’s in a rural consolidated public school in Michigan was B- work at Smith. I went to office hours, I made friends with women who were ahead of me and asked for help. I peeked down into my center and reminded myself I was smart, I was capable, I would work for it. And so I scraped and clawed and found that I could do better — I could be good enough to be at Smith. I could deserve to be there. But, I also gave up the thought of being the best at Smith. And in the course of that time I learned five things that have framed me.
- I learned that I am good enough to be at the table. Any table.
- I learned that there will be times when I feel I don’t belong at the table — and that I am capable of overcoming it.
- I learned that being good enough to be at the table doesn’t mean you’ll be the best at the table, and that’s ok.
- I learned that surrounding yourself with talented people is fun, provided they aren’t jerks.
- I learned not surround myself with jerks.
I think my 22-year old self would believe that those lessons were truly learned and subsequently applied. And I think she would be proud of what I’ve done. But, is it enough for a Smithie?
Oh, who the heck cares? It’s enough for me.