This past week marked my 25th anniversary of my graduation from Davidson College. Next month will mark my 25th 'sickiversary'. In this photo, I'm a hopeful new graduate, ready to begin an internship at the Office of Women's Health in the Department of Health and Human Services on a new domestic violence initiative. My plan is to take a little break from the years of intense studying before taking extra classes, applying for graduate school and becoming a nurse practitioner. The world, I've been told, is my oyster. In truth, my body has already been failing me for many years and I've barely managed to get through my senior year.
But today's post isn't about illness. It's about celebration (mixed with a little bit of grief). It's a love letter to Davidson and the enduring gifts that my time there gave me.
It's an ongoing joke in our family that I chose Davidson because during our college tour the tulips were in bloom all around campus, the sky was Carolina Blue and the weather warm. My eighteen year old self wasn't thinking about whether or not I would find others like me--mainly Jewish and liberal. The campus is stunningly beautiful.
My time at Davidson was complicated--I constantly felt challenged in all of my beliefs and overwhelmed by the pressure to be Christian. At the time, it was difficult to find other women who were feminist, pro-choice, Democrat, LGBTQ accepting, Jewish, etc. While that sometimes made being a Davidsonian difficult, it also challenged me in ways I might not have otherwise been challenged had I chosen a more liberal institution. It wasn't an easy place to be a person of color, LGBTQ, Jewish or liberal.
I left Davidson knowing what I believed and why. I wasn't just a Democrat or a Jew because that's how I had grown up.
Davidson is an academically intense school. Typically, I studied 4-5 hours a day on weekdays, stayed in one weekend evening, and spent much of weekend afternoons studying. But what an education I got! For many years after I got sick, I felt like my education was being left unused. That was a lot of money down the drain, I thought.
Mom would remind me that our education is the one thing that no one can take away from us. She reminded me that I use my education every single day. Davidson taught me to think critically, to write, to understand scientific studies, to be a good citizen of the community. It's a school with a strict honor code and a strong emphasis on volunteerism, giving back and doing good in the world.
Davidson challenged me to ask myself who I was and who I wanted to be. It challenged me to work harder than I ever had before. I am so grateful my body held out long enough to graduate with a degree from this institution, one that I now understand I use every day of my life as I navigate the world as a disabled person.
Beyond the education that I received though, and perhaps even more sustaining, are the friendships that have now lasted 29 years. Most of my friendships began freshman year, and I remain connected to a large community of beautiful human beings.
I took some time this week to send out text messages to those with whom I'm most closely in touch with. Taking the time to mindfully do this helped me to take in the lasting impact that Davidson has had on me beyond the education, beyond the formative experience of figuring out who I was and what I believed.
My friends have known me as non-disabled and disabled. They saw my life change almost overnight. They have never stopped seeing me for me. They have never stopped supporting me. They travel from far away to be with me. In my darkest times, one of my closest friends would come to visit and lie beside me while I was too sick for anything else.
They represent what it means to be a part of the Davidson community. Even people I didn't know well during my time at Davidson, follow my story and support me. After 29 years of friendship, these people are truly lifelong friends. We may not get to be in touch all of the time, but I know I am loved deeply and they know they are loved.
The quality of my education at Davidson has likely been critical in literally saving my life as I navigated a hostile medical world. The quality of my relationships has sustained my life. My commitment to giving back and being a good citizen of my community is also part of Davidson's enduring legacy in my life.
On this 25th anniversary of my graduation from Davidson, it would be unrealistic to say I don't still sometimes grieve the losses that my 23 year old self hoped for. I grieve not being well enough to go to the reunion or visit more of my friends. I grieve that I've missed every wedding, every new birth, meeting their children. At the same time, I'm able to fully embrace the challenges I faced, the education I received, the person I became and the friends I kept. I also celebrate Davidson's own growth over the past 25 years--their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion; to understanding their own complicated history with race; their commitment to social justice; their changes to old, outdated by-laws.
I hold the joy and the sadness at the same time.