vassar-college

And How Does That Feel

Post by Penny Luksic, Vassar College class of 2015

I don’t remember the first day of college. At all. There are a few pictures on Facebook of my roommate and me standing outside our double room smiling at two different cameras, so I know I wore corduroy pants too hot for move-in and had a long ponytail. I know I slept surprisingly well, given that it was a new bed in a room with a new person and I was three hours behind, thanks to jet lag. The details of the first day, however, are gone. At the very least, my memories of that first day aren’t linked to any strong emotion. No tears, no real anxiety. There must have been excitement, right? I’m not completely emotionless about the beginning of what ended up being a four-year emotional roller coaster. Right?

It’s been a month since graduation and, funnily enough, I feel the same way about that last day as I did about the first. Little to no tears, mild nervousness, mostly boredom. It’s as if my college experience had been a Mess Sandwich between two slices of white bread. I wonder if I’ll ever feel about graduation what I feel about the day my sister was born, or my first driving test, or even visiting Vassar for the first time: tears, terror, exhilarating anticipation. After taking some time to reflect, I’m giving it a hard no, and that’s because I was ready for it. A sibling, solo handling a moving bomb – those were not things I was prepared to do or understand. I didn’t know what to think about them, so I felt.

Starting college, finishing college – those are things I had readied for, and not only in the sense that I fulfilled my credits and made my necessary connections. Both at the start of college and at the end of it, I was ready for new space. Claustrophobic in a small, horrible pocket of Southern California my senior year of high school, I moved to the other side of the country to attend a school that seemed vast and old and full of people who had deep, heavy minds. I liked thinking of myself as one in a long history of “Vassar girls,” not the first, not the last. I thought it was far and possible at the same time. But by my junior year, things were claustrophobic again and I moved to New York City for the summer because it was electric and crannied. Living in the city ruined me. I spent money and gained weight and cried on subways. I lost friends and made new ones. Whenever people ask me about that summer, I answer with this: it was the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s cliche, but true, and for someone who doesn’t take many risks and prefers things even-keeled, the city was mind-altering. When I returned to school for my senior year, I didn’t look forward to weekends. They were small and always the same. I wanted art and new writing and a job and an apartment and vacation days for Guatemala and the Grand Canyon. I wrote the thesis I wanted and, most importantly, felt. I didn’t think much my senior year. Instead, I felt anxious and scared and angry, and also joy and abandon and love. To others, my behavior seemed detached and standoffish. In November a professor asked, “Why don’t you like being here anymore?” At the time, I’m sure I said something along the lines of, “I’m just burnt-out.” In the month since graduation, however, I’ve given it some thought. Did I actually dislike being there? School was suffocating in comparison to things I had felt in the city, to the things I knew I could be doing if I let those feelings take over, but did I hate it? At the time, absolutely, and as a result I was really ready to graduate. After, I took a week off and went to Philadelphia to drink beer and eat olives by a pool. I didn’t think about graduation. I had signed up to work Reunion Weekend, which meant I would have to be back on campus the following week. I needed the extra money, and a small, deep-down part of me wanted to say goodbye to Vassar without the chaos of Senior Week and the pressure of visiting family. But for the first few days following graduation, I regretted it. I would be sleeping in a dorm room for the first time in years, wearing a cotton t-shirt and “nice shorts” in ninety degree weather and, worst of all, be stuck on a campus I had, days earlier, been ready to abandon forever.

A week later, I packed a bag and went back to Poughkeepsie. I was assigned a room on the top floor of the dorm building I wanted to live in as a freshman. My best friend was assigned a room next door and my freshman year roommate assigned a room across the hall. I was surrounded by people I loved in a place I had once imagined could be my home. As you might imagine, it was starting to feel feely. Over the weekend, I assisted the Class of 2005 with their reunion events, handed out room keys, picked up trash, and stole left behind cases of beer. Fortunately, I was also working with my best friend, which meant I had someone to laugh with when the class chairs acted like assholes or the hours grew too long. We had chosen the Class of 2005 hoping to network and meet young, successful (but still fun!) graduates. It turned out that the Class of 2005 didn’t want to talk much; they wanted to party and reminisce amongst themselves and complain about law school. The weekend was slow. I went to bed early, but didn’t sleep well. I ate cafeteria food and planned my trip home for the summer. There was time to say goodbye to the campus, but I didn’t feel a need to. It seemed, as I had predicted, just like any other weekend at school – fine. But on Saturday morning, during the Reunion Parade, I bawled. I watched women from the Class of 1955 waving in the backseats of golf carts and laughed and cheered and cried my eyes out. I felt that vast, old feeling I had been waiting for, and then sunscreen got in my eyes and I cried even more.

A friend of mine asked me yesterday if I missed college yet. She’s been out of school for two years; she misses it. It took me a while to answer because I do miss some things. I miss studying and inconsequential conversation mixed in with hugely significant conversation. I miss feeling like I know where I am, like I know a place through and through. On the other hand, I don’t long for it. I don’t want it back, not even a little bit. I was ready to leave and to leave things behind. I didn’t feel the weekends, or feel school spirit, or feel this-is-the-last-week-ever-we-have-to-love-it-all. My four-year roller coaster felt secure and controlled and, sure, boring, but fine. But I found pockets of awesome, terrifying emotion on and off that campus. I cried on the subway and I cried on a golf cart about the past and the future and SPF 50. Now I’m home with few job prospects, with few friends, and I feel again. Again, I feel anxious and scared and unready. I worry every day about moving and finding a job and changing bank accounts and growing my hair out and eating too much In-n-Out. But I also write and walk my dog and am trying to crochet. I’m making things and feeling, and most importantly, learning to feel good about feeling the way I do. And that’s the kind of schooling I want now.

on using the word "identified"

(in reference to this post)

like seriously though one of my biggest pet peeves is cis people overusing the word “-identified” (in terms of gender), since it is almost always wrong. like, why are people so eager to say “female-identified” instead of woman? because it makes it a lot easier to accidentally (or intentionally) imply that trans women aren’t real women, they just “identify” as women. like, this whole shit where cis people get genders and we just get identities.

like yes. all gender is a social construct. I get it. believe me. but when you awkwardly stumble and try to add “-identified” to make things “more inclusive,” what are you actually saying? 

and if you EVER say “women and female-identified people” you are literally implying that there is some sort of difference. 

so please. cis people. I know you are just trying to help. but you are really just making things worse.

4

Maria Mitchell - Scientist of the Day

Maria Mitchell, an American astronomer, was born Aug. 1, 1818, in Nantucket. Mitchell was the first professional woman astronomer in the United States and a role model for generations of aspiring women scientists. She was trained by her father, a school-teacher, and had the extreme good fortune to discover a comet in 1847. Not only was she the first to see the comet, she also had the mathematical skill to calculate its orbit. Her feat won her an international gold medal from the Danish government, the first such recognition for any American woman, and eventually, the professorship of astronomy at Vassar College, also the first such position for any woman. (It is probably of interest to some of this reading audience that, before she became famous, Mitchell spent 17 years as a librarian on Nantucket.) Mitchell was admitted to various male bastions, such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston (the only woman so honored until the 20th century), but she decided early on that, instead of trying to show men that women could be good scientists, she would spend her life showing young women that they could be good scientists. She seems to have done a superb job at this task, becoming a legendary teacher at Vassar. Antonia Maury, a noted astronomer at Harvard, was one of her pupils. The lovely albumen print portrait of Maria above is at Harvard.

In 1863, Matthew Vassar, the founder of Vassar College, personally commissioned a telescope for Mitchell from Henry Fitz, a well-known New York telescope builder. With a lense 12 inches in diameter, it was second among American telescopes only to the great refractor at Harvard (see second image above). The telescope is now in the National Museum of American History in Washington. Vassar also built an observatory for Maria; a period photo can be seen above, just below the Fitz refractor.

The small telescope that Mitchell used to discover the Nantucket comet is now mounted in her childhood home on Vestal Street (see last photo above), across from the headquarters of the Maria Mitchell Association, the group her descendants founded in 1908 to continue Mitchell’s lifelong passion for the natural sciences and science education.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City