Monday, September 3, 2012

Greener Pastures

After many weeks in transit (such is life when you rely on the diplomatic pouch to deliver your mail), my beloved Alumnae Quarterly Magazine arrived this past week.  As I have for each edition over the past twenty-one years, I quickly skim through the feature articles and then turn to the class notes section. Here alumnae from ages twenty-one to ninety-one (and sometimes older) write in and share updates on their post college lives.

As a student I would read the class notes with both admiration and wonder.  At the young age of eighteen, everyone was older and in pouring over the minute details of each class's entry I felt as though I had a glimpse of what the future held for me.  Through my young and so naive lens it seemed as though all of the retired alums were leading exciting lives filled with exotic travel, loving families, and Mount Holyoke friends dating back to their first moments on campus.  The next generation of younger alums were juggling adoring families and satisfying careers and proving that yes, you really can have it all.  The most recent alums seemed so carefree as they settled into new cities, new careers, and new relationships.  In many respects these entries read like college life without all of the homework.  It all seemed so wonderful.

When I graduated and joined the alumnae ranks I faced a harsh reality.  Life was hard.  Sharing a house with one bathroom and two other women while juggling two jobs to pay the rent and wasn't as glamorous as I had imagined.  Never was there mention on those pages of finding meaningful work, paying off student loans, and the loneliness that exists when all your close friends are scattered across the country (this was a time when email was in its infancy and the whole idea of Facebook would have been unimaginable).  I experienced neither that close camaraderie nor fulfilling work that seemed to fill the Alumnae Quarterly pages.  I found myself reexamining the words behind the text for clues that others might be feeling the disenchantment that filled my thoughts.  Were my classmates and contemporaries as enthused and fulfilled by their life choices as their entries made them seem?  Was I the only one missing out on this excitement?  With each update came news of promotions, engagements, and eventually babies.  Rarely was there mention of career letdowns or failed relationships.  Unknowingly I found myself falling into a predictable quarterly cycle.  Each set of updates brought me inspiration and pride - after all my fellow alumnae were doing amazing things both professionally and personally- then self-disappointment and regret.  I wondered how did I even get accepted into a college that managed to produce so many successful women.  Was everyone as successful as the Alumnae Association made them out to be?  
Today as my friends and I hover on the brink of a new decade, our place on the magazine's pages has crept from the very end to someplace in the middle.  I still rush to read the class notes section but my interpretation of the words is much different than it was two decades or even two years ago.  Reading between the lines I see that life isn't nearly as easy or happy as my eighteen year old self imagined it would be.  Amongst us there are (re)marriages, divorces, long term partnerships, and long term singlehood.  We may be professionally happy, dissatisfied, and/or caught in a limbo somewhere between the two.  Through circumstance there may be children of the two, four, or no legged variety or there may be no offspring at all.  Increasingly we are facing the challenge of caring for ourselves, our children, and our aging parents.  Many of us have jumped off of the career path altogether and are finding our personal satisfaction through a variety of non-career options (I don't remember anyone ever talking about this even being an option when I was in college).  If there is one thing that age and experience has taught me, things are never as simple as the black and white pages make them out to be.

The Laurel Parade circa 1900
Last month I submitted my own infrequent update to the Quarterly. I talked about summer travel with my family, reconnecting with old college friends during a brief visit back to the States, and living and working abroad in Albania.  As I hit the send button I thought it was a perfectly appropriate, very MHC, snapshot of my life.  After my message went out into cyberspace I thought about what else I could have written.  I could have mentioned that my job is part time and not in a career field I would have ever chosen.  That I am here because of my husband's career and in the Embassy world am referred to as an "eligible family member" (Now isn't that a welcoming and empowering term?).  I omitted the fact that while I do live in Europe, Albania is European in name only and many of the conditions here rival those of a third world country.  I'm not laying out these thoughts in an attempt at garnering pity; rather I'm pointing out that there is always more than one side to every story. What looks glamorous and wonderful from the outside could be completely the opposite from the inside.  What is said is just as important as what is left unsaid. 

I wish someone had imparted this wisdom on me this all those years ago.  Every time I pick up the Quarterly I am immensely proud of the women whose stories are shared on its pages.  Collectively we are an impressive group of women.  We are leaders in business, education, the world, and in the home.  Individually our lives teach the lesson that, whether it be personally, professionally, or both, each of us make important contributions to our worlds.  The few hundred words that summarize our activities in each magazine do not even begin to share the depth of our experiences.

The Laurel Parade circa 2010
Here is a promise to myself; the next time I make a Quarterly submission I will be more honest. The good, the bad, and the ugly are all a part of realty.  Life isn't always an easy and we owe it to ourselves and each other to be honest.  Maybe then an eighteen year old sitting in her dorm room on an idyllic New England college campus will realize that there is more to life than the story the black and white words on the page in front of her project.  And that is a good thing.


  1. I like your perspective on this. There is lot not said that surrounds a sentence.

  2. You know I frequently don't write into the quarterly because I feel like my life is boring in comparison to the ones I read about. I think more honesty would be delightful. I agree with you completely.