This year marks the 45th anniversary of my graduation from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. Wow!
Despite the passage of all that time, Wesleyan is still with me in so many ways. It was the career-defining decision. If I had not gone to Wesleyan, I would be someone else. I started at age 16 though having come from North Philly, and having been raised by parents who insisted I be independent and responsible, I was ready to handle my money, my schedule, and to avoid some of the new-college student social pitfalls others faced.
I was part of the class of 1976. It wasn’t easy. Though I’d come from an academic high school and was pre-med, I failed my first chemistry exam. When I went for help, the professor told me I should go into theatre or dance even though my pre-entrance surveys showed a high aptitude for science. All of us have stories of feeling unwelcome, but we also have stories about UJAMAA, our Black students’ union, our “mother” and advocate, Fay D. Boulware, Director of the African American Institute, and our strong relationships with the Latinex students. We also remember that despite some racist attitudes and the huge number of publications and accolades, the overall faculty saw its primary responsibility as teaching and mentoring. Earl Hanson from the biology department, Gertrude Hughes from the English Department, and Sheila Tobias from Women’s Studies supported me even once I’d left their classrooms. With other faculty, they encouraged me to listen to my heart and gut rather than follow rigid pathways and external forces.
Wesleyan cared more about how you think than what you think. It demanded that we synthesize information and use it to make a difference even if we had to buck the tide and forge our own path. I learned to lay advice over my values, heart, and gut like a template. No matter how credentialled or experienced, if that person’s advice doesn’t fit, THEY are wrong. I learned to trust myself and though my path has not always been easy or usual, it is fully mine.
Many of the important relationships outside my family are with people from Wesleyan. We connect on social media, speak frequently, go on vacation, and share godparent relationships with children. Even folks I haven’t seen in years feel as comfortable calling me as I feel reaching out to them. The response is always immediate, welcoming, and useful. It’s quite a network, and I am grateful to have had an opportunity to develop, participate in, and enjoy it. Here’s the link to the interview my classmate Byron Haskins did with me and other WESU ’76ers for the reunion festivities. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLQKylG6_9LcID7cbaPsbGSkC5A943hU8V
Also enjoy the concert from my classmate, renowned jazz vibraphonist, Jay Hoggard. https://www.facebook.com/159550348092/videos/3589298354627790