Dear Alumnae

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

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Questions, Intuitions, Revisions: Storytelling as Inquiry

2005 Web Report

On Serendip

Dear Alumnae

Deborah Farrington

You don't hear a lot from us. We current students tend to separate ourselves from the majority of you. Your bulletin mentions us, but it sounds more like the mention we get in the glossy pamphlets in the admissions office rather than what is written in the bi-co newspaper. You rarely hear from us freshwomen at all, I would just like to remind you that we are here; we have made it through a semester of classes so far. We are no longer the young women who arrived here last August. We now have something in common with you. We are now Mawrters, too.

There is a stone owl bookend that sits on my bedside table in my dorm room on the third floor of Pembroke East. My mother gave it to me right before I left home. She has had it on her desk for nearly as long as I can remember, though it can't really have been that long since it was my grandmother's before it was hers. "Take it," she insisted, "it is a Bryn Mawr owl, it needs to be back at Bryn Mawr holding books."

I am a third generation Mawrter. My mother and my father's mother have preceded me here (my father, it may be mentioned, was forced to attend Haverford). Unlike the other girls on my hall, I have known about Bryn Mawr my whole life. My mother sang me step-sing songs as lullabies, as time sent a warning call and sweet dreams descended. I can tell Taylor from Thomas because "Taylor tower sounds its warning" while Thomas doesn't have a bell. I knew what a step-sing was before my first on Parade Night this year; I knew not to use the Senior Steps. I knew I should offer Athena something as soon as possible, because I knew this wasn't going to be easy.
Their ghosts sometimes hover over me, at the most random times they will brush their cool fingers against my neck. I signed up for physics this past semester simply because I couldn't stomach going farther into chemistry, and not only going to my mother's college but studying her subject. There are professors that I could take classes with that my parents had; my dean was a graduate student when they were undergrads. On the day of my Bryn Mawr interview, my mother and I realized that if I was to go to Bryn Mawr, I would have a red lantern. "If you waited a year," my mother pointed out, "you could be dark blue like me."

I chose to have a red lantern. If I was going to copy my mother and grandmother in my choice of college, I was at least going to be a different color. I have come to realize that I did not need to worry about that. My Bryn Mawr is so different from theirs that sometimes it feels like I go to a completely different school. I had to explain to my father what Brecon was, "it's a dorm way out on the edge of campus."

"Behind the science building?" he asked.

"No, it's all the way across the street from Cambrian Row." I added, "in the general direction of the Graduate School of Social Work." To him Park is the end of campus and Cambrian Row is faculty housing, I did not try to explain Brecon Prom. To my mother the fourth floor of Pem East is an attic, and both of them have trouble remembering I can't store things at school over summer vacation. If my grandmother were alive she would have a worse time of it than my parents. I gave up trying to describe the dressing up during Hell Week to my mother, her reaction was "what tradition is this that Pem East was a brothel?!" I can't even imagine what my grandmother would say.

To tell the truth, I'm not sure what my grandmother would think of my Bryn Mawr at all. To her it was a place where well-bred girls went to get a well-bred education. She was the only child of two doctors in Albany, New York, and though she didn't have a maid at college, many of her classmates did. My mother tells me that many of the girls then decided that to help the war effort they would give up their maids. My grandmother was walking down her hall and heard one of her classmates crying. She knocked on the door and asked the girl if she was alright. "I don't know what to do," the girl sobbed, "my maid is gone and I don't know how to make my bed." If that was my grandmother's Bryn Mawr, what must she have thought of my mother's where no one had a maid, and everyone made their own beds? What would she think of Bryn Mawr now? Where her granddaughter shares a room on the third floor (the third floor was originally the servant's rooms), works in the dining hall, and whose classmates can, but often don't bother to make their beds.

The three Bryn Mawrs my grandmother, my mother and I know are all separate entities, just as I'm sure the Bryn Mawr of any alum is separate from the college we students are experiencing now. Is it even fair to call it one school, to classify all of us Mawrters under one name when our experiences of being Mawrters is so different? Even the traditions, which are held to give the school a sense of unity, have changed so much over time. My mother hand made her white May Day dress, while I have been told by upper classmen to buy a cheap skirt so it doesn't matter if it accumulates grass-stains.
My mother agrees with me that traditions have changed, but she pointed out that many of the traditions within traditions have not. Though our skirts may be cheaper and less formal, current Mawrters still wear white on May Day. Though Parade Night grows less like a parade and more like a stampede every year, the freshwomen still pass through Pem Arch and between rows of upperclasswomen as their formal welcome into Bryn Mawr. Step-sings, apart from the additions of new songs, remain nearly identical over the years. "And the lanterns," my mother reminds me, every Mawrter has a lantern, and every Mawrter to come will have a lantern.

Still, lanterns alone do not hold us together. It is not traditions alone that make me feel a kinship other Mawrters, no matter how old they are or what their college experience was like. Though every year Bryn Mawr changes, becomes a different place, there is something that remains the same. There must be some common thread running through my grandmother's, my mother's and my Bryn Mawr; some common thread that ties us together.

Perhaps it is the people. Bryn Mawr has always carefully chosen who was to become a Mawrter. Though the admissions office has been becoming less selective over the years when it came to race, religion and wealth, Bryn Mawr has never accepted just any girl. Mawrters are a distinct race. They work hard, but not insanely so, they procrastinate, but are acutely conscious of it, they are smart, but not the smartest out there, they are quick, but not the quickest, they are not social butterflies, they are not beauty queens; Mawrters are intelligent women, not stars. As a fellow Mawrter told me, "Mawrters are good." And is it so odd for a collection of people with similar traits to feel kinship?

What about a collection of people with similar traits in a single place? Even if you took completely different people and had them all live in the same buildings, even if they never met each other they would have something in common. They would know the same places, they would feel a connection simply because they had existed in the same buildings. When the classes and classmates of my Bryn Mawr become too foreign to my mother, and when there seems to be more differences between our traditions than similarities, my mother and I talk of the buildings. We compare her solitary room in Pem West with mine in Pem East which always seems to be full of people. We talk about the town of Bryn Mawr as well as just the official campus. I shyly mention all the places I have been as I explore farther and farther from my dorm, and she tells me about her experiences in those same places. The student oriented little town, the rusty train bridge, the rich homes, and the stone buildings, they all shape the lives of people who lived here. At reunions when a Mawrter meets another, the first thing they ask to try to find common ground is, "so, what dorm did you live in?" Current students do the same thing, an upperclasswoman trying to get to know a frosh will ask where they live on campus. This simple question opens up amazing doors. One of the good friends of my HA, and now one of my good friends too, lives in the suite below the one my father lived in his senior year. And closer to home for me, my grandmother also lived in Pem East. Such little things may not sound like much, but when a Mawrter speaks dorms to another Mawrter they speak in their own language, the language of the buildings of Bryn Mawr.
The stone buildings, the castle turrets they all hold the spirits of Mawrters that have graduated, and we current students feel them sometimes. When I sit on Pem Green to do my homework, I think of all the other women, all the other Mawrters, that have sat there, right where I have, and done homework just as I have done. The ghosts of all the Mawrters of the past are there just as the ghosts of my mother and grandmother. It is these ghosts then that make Mawrters. The presence of like people on the same campus no matter what time they spent there, gives Mawrters a unity, where their experiences cannot. Little things remind us that we have unity. My parents kissed under rock arch to make their love last, and when I tell that story my hallmates understand, though they have never met my parents. And on my bedside table sits a stone owl bookend, still a Bryn Mawr Owl though by now it has seen three generations of Mawrters.

So Alumnae, when you are tempted to forget about us undergrads, or think of us as another race entirely, just remember that though we may seem like foreigners to you experiencing things you do not understand, or care to understand, we go to Bryn Mawr, and just like you we are Mawrters too.

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