Spring Convocation Remarks, Bronwen Pardes ’95, April 29, 2009

Fifteen years ago I was sitting where you are now, which doesn’t seem like a long time ago till I realize that many of you were in second grade at the time. Although I know what it’s like to be a Vassar almost-graduate, I don’t know what it’s like to be a Vassar almost-graduate in 2009. My guess, though, is that you don’t have an abundance of people telling you how lucky you are. So that’s why AAVC hired me. I’m here to tell you how lucky you are. And it’s not because you are just about to finish getting the best possible education, although you are. You’re lucky because you’re about to become alumni.

Hold on: Since I’m a sex educator, a quick gender lesson before we go any further. If you identify as a woman, you are about to become an alumna; if you identify as a man you are about to become an alumnus. In a group, such people are usually alumni, but because we went to a former women’s college that never forgets its history, we are alumnae-slash-i.

In any case, you are about to join the family of Vassar graduates. And you’re about to be the babies of that family, which is great for you, because everyone loves the babies most. In case you’re not clear on why that makes you lucky, let me give you a snapshot of my early years as a young alumna.

After graduation my classmate Miriam and I took the ridiculous whirlwind backpack tour of Europe I’m sure some of you are planning right now. We left the states armed with six pairs of underwear between us, and because I was a Vassar nerd, we also had the names and phone numbers of alumnae/i who lived in the countries we planned to visit. Our third night in Europe, we stayed in a small German town called Weinheim, in the home of an alumna from the class of 1990, who fed us Aashe, which is Persian for soup. I’d never met her before, and I haven’t seen her since, though she did send me the recipe for Aashe, which I make often. We stayed with her because I called her on the phone and asked if we could. Without knowing a thing about us other than where we went to college, she said yes.

Several days later, in Italy, while walking from the train station to the Duomo, Mir and I were robbed by a band of gypsies all under the age of 12. I’m not proud. But when we needed a place where American Express could send us replacement credit cards, we called an alumna from the class of 1976 living in France, who allowed us to have the package delivered to her Paris apartment. Because, you see, I may not have been smart enough to avoid getting robbed by children, but I was smart enough to know the power of this very important opening line: “you don’t know me, but I went to Vassar…..”

We made it home from Europe and life went on. When I moved to a small town in southern Oregon where I didn’t know anyone, I got taken out for a delicious French dinner by a wonderful alumna from the class of 1933. When I drove across country and couldn’t camp out because of tornadoes, Vassar people let me unroll my sleeping bag on their floor. And just recently, Blair Bess ’80, after meeting me once, briefly, spent many hours and dollars developing a pilot for my radio show. Because to Blair, even when we were virtual strangers, we were also distant cousins.

OK, there’s a little more to it than that. If the only thing you know about me is that I went to Vassar just like you did, that’s knowing a lot. Eric Marcus ’80 told me I could write a book before I knew it myself. He’d never read a word of my writing, but he knew where I’d come from because he came from there too.

I’m older now. I’m past 30 and therefore no longer the baby of this family. So only in a real pinch would I ask a stranger if I could sleep on her couch. But just the other day I got an email from Allison Matthews ’07, if I would give her some career guidance. We had a lovely conversation. And as I talked to her, I thought of all of you.

In uncertain times, when networking is key, Allison did what I hope all of you will do: use us. We’re here for you, and we like you without having met you. We can make a big scary world feel a little smaller and a little more manageable.

Think I’m kidding? Write this down: Cappy already gave you my resume. If you’re planning to write your first book, or if you’re thinking of hustling pool, get in touch. If I’m not the right person, get on the AAVC website and call someone else.

But whatever you’re doing, you’ll always have a distant cousin somewhere nearby who has done it before. And wherever you are, one of us will be there too. And we are always happy to get a call from someone who says, “you don’t know me, but I went to Vassar….”

Posted by Office of Communications Wednesday, April 29, 2009